dealing with an overly touchy-feely colleague who wants to talk about feelings all the time

A reader writes:

Earlier this year, I joined a committee on a volunteer basis that does some advocacy work within my industry. It’s a great group of people, with whom I enjoy working, but…

The co-chair is absolutely driving me nuts, to the point where I’ve been contemplating quitting. She’s a lovely woman, with lots of experience in a variety of fields, but the way she conducts meetings drives me up the wall.

She’s really into self-care and mental health awareness and making our meetings a safe place. We have a three-hour meeting one Saturday a month, 10 am – 1 pm. Each meeting begins with a check-in, where we are asked to talk about what’s going on in our lives and how we’re feeling that day. At the end of the meeting, we do a check-out, usually in the form of “one word that describes how we feel about what we accomplished here today.” I’ve been white-knuckling it through these meetings, trying so hard not to roll my eyes or say something really sarcastic; mostly, during check-ins, I make a light joke about not having my coffee yet and flip it to the next person. It makes me really uncomfortable to talk about my life outside these meetings in such a formal way, even if my regular work is relevant to everyone’s interests.

At our last meeting, we were discussing the departure of one member, who felt over-scheduled and needed to take a step back, which I think is pretty normal. This co-chair wanted to use this as an opportunity to check-in with us on a more regular basis, one-one-one, and asked how we would all prefer to be contacted (phone, email, text, etc). I asked her to only email me, and when she asked what else I was thinking (I must have been making a really sour face) I couldn’t refrain from telling her I didn’t think it was necessary for her to check up on me in that fashion. Fortunately, she made a note, moved on, and has never done so. I don’t know whether she’s had this kind of check-in with anyone else.

I feel like, in response to this woman’s open approach, I have really shut down and been cold to her, which isn’t her fault. It’s a knee-jerk reaction — the more someone instructs me to be open and honest with them, the more I get suspicious and defensive and close myself off. I feel like it’s probably worth getting in touch with her privately and trying to explain myself, but I don’t know how to offer a better solution than I’m not going to participate in check-ins because I don’t wanna. Any ideas?

Ooooh, ick. I would be having the exact same reaction as you, although I probably would have blurted something out about it by now.

I actually disagree with you about calling her style an “open approach.” It’s actually a very directive approach; she’s decided that because she likes this very touchy-feely, let’s-share-our-emotions style, it must be good for the group as a whole. An “open approach” would be saying, “Hey, I think checking in our our emotions at the start and end of every meeting would be good because ____. Is that something y’all would like to do?” But she’s just imposing it on the group.

I think your instinct to talk to her about how you’re feeling (ha!) is the right one — but it doesn’t need to be so much about “sorry I’ve been shut down and cold.” It should be more about your actual concerns with the way she’s running meetings. Why not say something like this: “I’ve been thinking about the way we’re conducting our meetings, and I’m struck by how much time we’re focused on people’s feelings — the feelings check-in and the start and end of each meetings, and the recent mention of doing individual check-ins with people about how they’re doing. I’d really like to focus our time on the substance of our work, and I suspect others might feel the same. Honestly, to me it feels way too touchy-feely for professional work, to the point that it’s even made me question whether the committee is the right fit for me. But before I decide that, I thought I should ask you whether you’d be open to changing the way we conduct these, or at least get input from others about whether they feel the same?”

If you can’t bring yourself to say this, or if you know she’s going to be terribly hurt or not open to change, another option is to talk to with others in the group and see if they do in fact privately agree with you (I have to think at least some of them will). You mentioned that she’s the co-chair. You could talk to the other co-chair and say a version of the above to that person.

And of course, if it turns out that everyone but you loves the touchy-feeliness, then you might end up concluding that this just isn’t the right group for you. But I’d be surprised if you’re the only one gritting your teeth through this each month, and it’ll just take someone finally speaking up about it.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 312 comments… read them below }

  1. Kai*

    Bleh, this would make me so uncomfortable, too. Do speak up–like Alison said, I’d bet you’re not the only one who hates this.

    1. Steve G*

      I know, what about if you have ongoing BS or just items that aren’t going to change in your life, but still piss you off? Like my 1/2 an hour commute that sometimes turned into an hour-hour 1/2 at past job because of a sh*** overloaded L train on the NYC subway line? How productive is it to have to talk about how the same thing made you angry again, for the tenth time? Did it annoy me every time? Yes. Did my coworkers want to hear about it every time? NO. Was it productive to discuss it at work? NO.

      I could also see the dynamic playing out where you aren’t in a good mood because of something but keep it to yourself…then you share that with someone because they are prying about how you are…..then they don’t like the answer and tell you to be more positive/be more proactive to solve xyz problems, and then the person getting more agitated, thinking “why did they act so concerned about how I was if they really didn’t want to know, or just wanted to preach at me?!”

      1. JMegan*

        Exactly. Or something really personal, that the person doesn’t want to bring to work. When I was going through my divorce, that would have been the last thing I wanted to talk about in front of my coworkers. I was having a hard enough time focusing on work as it was, and the only way I could do it was to push my personal life to the very back of my mind while I was in the office. No way would I have spoken up about it in a meeting like that. Not only because I needed to compartmentalize, but to risk crying in front of my colleagues? No, no, no, no, NOPE.

        Good luck to you, OP. I’d love to hear an update when you have one!

        1. AnonaMoose*

          Seriously. I just came from a mental health appt so maybe I am extra sensitive about this but: why does a professional group need group therapy? Did they ask for it? I find it incredibly intrusive of this woman to assume her colleagues trust her enough to share their non-work related feelings. I agree with Allison, I would check in with the other members (stealthily).

  2. Elkay*

    Oh God. I had to do this every single day at my old job. It was awful.

    If this isn’t going to impact you professionally then definitely speak up using Alison’s wording, I’d do it during the meeting as you might find you get more support that way.

    1. Mabel*

      I don’t think I agree with doing this during the meeting. That has the potential to really embarrass her in front of everyone else. And if I were part of that group, even if I completely agreed with you (which I would!), I would have a hard time chiming in because it might feel like piling on.

      1. Elkay*

        I don’t like the idea of going and talking to everyone before saying anything to her, that feels like staging a coup, I prefer things to be upfront and open.

          1. Nashira*

            Gotta second this. Sometimes a coup is exactly what is called for. Not that I have recently staged any coups in a local gaming community or anything. *whistles innocently*

        1. Kate M*

          But bringing it up during the meeting puts other people in the group on the spot, too. What if the co-chair then went and said, “ok, everyone who agrees with OP, raise your hand”? Or asked for some other confirmation of how people are feeling? Most people probably wouldn’t want to be on the spot in having to give feedback to the co-chair like that, which would either mean that they might lie (and say they were fine with it), or feel compelled to say something when they weren’t planning to otherwise.

          Just getting a feel of how others are feeling beforehand isn’t staging a coup, it’s getting to know whether others feel the same as you, or if others would like to speak up without putting them on the spot.

        2. Colette*

          I see talking to everyone as a tool to find out whether you’re the only one it bothers. If so, it’s time to let it go or move on. On the other hand, if it bothers everyone, that shows it’s something worth bringing up.

  3. TL -*

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I wouldn’t longer that either, OP, but I wouldn’t have the self restraint that you do to prevent my eyes from rolling.

  4. OriginalYup*

    I don’t have anything practical to add, just wanted to offer you my sympathy and solidarity on the total yuck of the never-ending feelings circle. I’ve had a couple of professional/workplace experiences like that and they made me want to scream “Get out of my brain pan!” and then take a Silkwood-style shower. :: shudder ::

    1. Artemesia*

      I’d be stockpiling some words like ‘intrusive’, ‘crossing boundaries’, ‘overly personalizing work’, ‘making people uncomfortable’, ‘grilling people about their personal business’, ‘unprofessional’ ‘prying into person concerns.’ And I’d be using them with the co-chair when expressing our discomfort.

      Another approach is to ally with everyone else in the group and if they feel similarly that they would like to forego this mind gaming, then agree that when it happens, each person will simply say something like ‘I’d really like to get on with our business and not grill everyone about their personal life.’ There are dozens of ways to say that from ‘I am not comfortable sharing my personal concerns’ to ‘This feels pretty intrusive, can we get on with the business of the meeting.’

  5. KathyGeiss*

    My company does this to a much smaller extent (we’re a multi-national in a conservative industry and it was a big culture change to get used to). Fortunately, our check ins and outs are focused on the meeting topic and the purpose is to bring everyone into the right frame of reference for a successful meeting. I don’t love it but it’s not terrible and it does force some people to leave behind whatever it was they were working on previoisly and focus on the new topic.

    Would it help if you positioned a reframe to these check ins with that twist? That way your not asking for a total change but rather a tweak of focus.

    But, if it’s just not for you, that’s totally understandable and I like Allison’s suggestions.

      1. edj3*

        I’m not KathyGeiss, but I’ve both seen this used and used it myself but strictly in a business-oriented way. For example, I’ve seen it used effectively at the start of a regular staff meeting. A previous manager would do the check ins, asking if anyone had anything that would preclude their full participation and attention at the meeting. More than once, someone would mention a burning issue or looming deadline and when asked if his/her time would be better spent on that, would answer yes and off they’d go.

        Similarly at the end of the meeting, it’s been used to probe for any remaining issues or unanswered questions—anything for the good of the group that will help everyone get their jobs done.

        1. Beezus*

          I like that. I would think, as a bonus, answering that one could devote one’s full attention to the meeting might prevent one from tapping away at one’s phone or laptop during the meeting.

          1. the gold digger*

            Yes. A public declaration of intent is a very strong binder. That’s why, when you go around the table at the end of a meeting, you don’t say, “Wakeen, you are going to check on getting those translations for Brazil. Shavon, you are going to prepare the application for the patent.”

            Instead, you ask them to tell you what they are going to do. When people say out loud what they are going to do, they are way more committed than if someone else tells them what to do. (I think this is one of the principles of Weight Watchers and of Alcoholics Anonymous.)

        2. Beebs the Elder*

          Yep, this exactly. It’s part of the protocol for interest-based bargaining, at least. The idea isn’t to get at life outside the meeting, but the opposite–is there anything that’s going to affect you during the next two hours or whatever. The checkout is to get at unresolved issues or concerns that need to be addressed at a future meeting. Most of the time, they’re very fast . . . “I need to leave at 2,” or “I’m recovering from a cold so I might be a little quiet today” or whatever. No pressure and certainly not about personal stuff!

        3. jag*

          We do that. But people are allowed to bring up personal or professional issues that are affecting them. If someone’s kid is sick or they have problems that are affecting them, it’s totally legit for them to mention that. But they don’t have to.

          Beebs the Elder describes it well too.

      2. Java Jones*

        We use check-ins like this regularly at the music empowerment and education organization with which I volunteer. It’s great for volunteers to communicate with staff, especially because it can be emotional work, and I know (the very small team of borderline over-worked) staff does this at their own meetings, too. Honestly, I’ve always really liked it, but the practice pre-dates me at the organization.

        1. Java Jones*

          OH. And I meant to say: no one is obligated to share anything at these times. It’s completely ok and genuinely acceptable to say, “I’m not ready to share,” or “Nothing to share right now.” Perhaps if this committee leader were also willing to accept these answers, the OP wouldn’t feel so put upon and uncomfortable. It’s absolutely true that not everyone is comfortable sharing their feelings — and that difference should not be seen as a bad thing.

          1. AnonaMoose*

            I like this suggestion! And great articulation of a successful implementation of this type of practice. :)

      3. KathyGeiss*

        An example may be the most helpful. Say we’re having a meeting on the new Turquoise Teapot product sales, our check in question may be: “In 15 seconds or less, tell us that latest piece of feedback you’ve heard about Turquoise Teapots from your customer contacts.”

        The goal is to get people to shift their thinking from their overdue finance report or the pink teapot line they were just meeting about to the new task at hand. It’s supposed to ensure everyone is engaged in the meeting.

        The check out of the same meeting may be “name one new customer your going to go talk to about turquoise teapots now that you have new info (that presumably you got during the meeting).” The intent there is to have people looking forward to next steps.

        Make sense?

        I don’t love it but it’s not harmful and I do see some benefits.

    1. AMG*

      I think you are saying that each person would go around the room and say, ‘I’m feeling frustrated because procurement isn’t doing their jobs but wants to be involved in every little thing’ or ‘I am really happy with how the requirements meeting went’ and then at the end, ‘I feel concerned that I thought we had all of the requirements nailed down but now it appears that we don’t’ or ‘I am relieved to know that procurement will be handling X and Y and it won’t be on my plate to deliver that’.

      Is that it?

    2. AntherHRPro*

      I’ve been in many meetings that do this as well. But it always been work related. For the opening check-in: what are you hoping to get out of this meeting today? For the closing check-out: what did you get out of the meeting, what are you going to do differently, what unresolved issues haven’t we addressed, etc.

    3. cv*

      I used to work at an organization that did check-ins, and we sometimes we did the longer, touchy-feely version (though you could always opt out and we generally talked about work or work-appropriate-level sharing about weekend plans, kids, etc. rather than anything particularly deep). But we always did at least a minimal level of whether there was anything that the other meeting attendees could benefit from knowing about your ability to be productive on the task at hand, and it was often helpful and rarely painful. It tended to be things like “I’ve got a headache/my allergies are acting up and so I’m a little out of it,” or “I’m waiting for a call from X and might need to duck out,” or “I’ve spent the last few hours immersed in project Y so that’s where my head is.” The most common answers were of the “glad to be here and looking forward to getting to work” variety. And when we did this with our board it was genuinely nice to hear a few sentences from each person about what was going on in their world – one person got a new grant, another had a new job, a third was launching a new program, etc.

      So I like the idea of trying to re-cast or pull back on the feelings aspect of the check-in, rather than going straight to ditching it. If this group all works on related issues but isn’t in regular touch, it could be a good informal networking tool to have a sense of what other people and organizations are doing.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        There are definitely times when hearing “I’ve spent the last few hours immersed in project Y so that’s where my head is” would provide extremely useful context! Especially from people higher up in the hierarchy. I’m thinking specifically of the time I got feedback on something I’d written, and all the comments had a very unexpected focus – I found out later that the bigwig involved had just met with a local politician, and had things like job creation on his mind much more than he usually would.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, I’ve seen the check-in, check-out concept – both in practice and as part of meeting facilitation best practice guides. The check-in especially is more focused on the business (or topic at hand) and not about feelings.

      1. Alma*

        This. The only place the personal, touchy-feely approach would be appropriate would be in a supervisory meeting of peer counselors, or in a weekly class for those being trained to be caring helpers for other members of their worship community. This method models ways of asking open ended questions, active listening, clarifying “what I heard you say is…”, and also to respect someone’s need to remain silent.

        It also alerts the leader and group if there is something going on in someone’s life that will make it hard for them to fully participate. This is much preferred to someone who made the effort to be there, but isn’t present because they are preoccupied with the problem they brought in with them. (Other people in the group aren’t wondering ” is it something I said?”)

        In a work related context it would be inappropriate.

        1. jag*

          My organization has particular expertise in meeting and process facilitation – we’ve done it for government ministries and major companies around the world. And checking in on anything that will affect participants ability to work in a meeting is often important. If a key participant in a meeting is distracted because there are floods in her hometown or he was up all night with a sick kid, is that somehow less likely to affect the meeting than if he was up all night working on a proposal for another department?

          People are not machines. Their personal lives affect their work lives. I’m not saying we have to force people to talk about their feelings, but it’s important to recognize them and allow space for them if the person is open to sharing and it might affect the professional process.

          Another organization we collaborate with was involved in meetings to sustain cease fires in conflicted area of a particular country. Some of the meetings involved rebels, government civilians, military, and community leaders. Allowing and even encouraging people to talk about feelings and their personal lives was essential to putting human faces on people who simply did not trust each other at first.

          There is huge amounts of evidence that personal connections are helpful in build professional cooperation.

  6. Dang*

    If words fail here, maybe you could choreograph an interpretive dance or uplifting song about your feelings.

    I mean, I get where she’s coming from but I think she’s gone too far. I’m like you, OP, and I absolutely hate sharing my “feelings” when it’s not necessary or even relevant, like at work. I’m not sure I’d survive in a scenario like that for very long.

    I would personally leave out the questioning whether it’s the right fit because that might put her on extra high alert and I think you can get the message across without coming across as threatening to quit; frankly I find it likely that she would interpret it that way.

    1. Hermione*

      My interpretive dance for this would have a lot of of middle finger flapping and mimed farting, but maybe a song would work…

      1. AnonaMoose*

        How would one mime that? I’m curious what that looks like. Is it just a leg lift?

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Hmmm, I think you squat and then jump up explosively, like you are being propelled by gas.

        2. Beezus*

          I was picturing the armpit fart noise gesture, but I have a 9 year old boy, so I see that with some frequency.

    2. Cleopatra Jones*

      That’s exactly why I developed an ‘angry butterfly busting out its cocoon’ interpretive dance for these occasions. :-)

      1. Windchime*

        This whole thread is really funny, but this is the comment that made me suck part of a Ritz cracker up my nose.

  7. Pill Helmet*

    I think often times people think that creating a safe place means simply encouraging people to talk about their feelings and then responding in a non-punitive way, and they forget that they also need to make it safe to NOT talk about feelings or frustrations and still be non-punitive about that. That usually means not putting people on the spot and giving them an avenue to pursue matters privately or anonymously.

    1. Clever Name*

      Exactly. It’s kind of like how freedom of religion should also be about freedom FROM religion, if that’s your thing.

            1. Pill Helmet*

              Can’t believe I never heard of that!! Can’t get over the spaghetti monster rendition of The Creation of Adam.

    2. fposte*

      I’m reminded years ago of an explanation of how to run an empowering talk group of some kind, and one of the notes was “Because chairs can be restricting, we sit on the floor.” Uh. If restricting is a bad thing, maybe don’t restrict people to having to sit where you want them to. It’s annoying how often there is a secret core of “freedom and emotional openness must look like *this*.”

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        That’s so sad because that’s also so extremely ableist. Many people with invisible disabilities would be forced to out themselves by objecting that they cannot sit on the floor without experiencing a lot of pain.

        1. fposte*

          Yup, also something we remarked on at the time. Then there’s the fact that if the ground was so great, why did humans flock to chairs?

        2. Anonsie*

          Yeah I was going to say anything but if you want to make me comfortable, please don’t make me do something that’s going to make people suddenly notice that I don’t get around as well as you’d expect.

        3. AnonaMoose*

          That was the first thing I saw: me stuck on the floor while everybody is walking back to their desks after the meeting. Gee, thanks for the “openness”.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I love sitting on the floor! At my house, where I know the floor is clean and I have comfy carpet and my yoga bolster. However, I can’t see how that would work out at a normal organization where the floor is walked all over every day by all kinds of people tracking in who knows what.

            Also, if I were asked to sit on the floor today, that wouldn’t really jibe with the pencil skirt I’m wearing. I’d be written up for violating the dress code (showing too much leg – not a problem in a chair).

        4. Stellanor*

          My hinky back does not rise to the level of disability, but it does rise to the level of making sitting on the floor for prolonged periods very uncomfortable.

          Also my butt falls asleep.

      2. nona*

        I just thought of a feminist group I was in. In the first meetings, leaders were worried that some people may be too nervous to speak up for themselves, or some people might dominate conversation or interrupt others. They decided that we must raise our hands like school kids to ask for permission to speak.

        tl;dr some time later in a meeting I had to ask for a man’s permission to speak. FEMINIST SAFE SPACE YOU GUYS

          1. nona*

            I left a lot out of the story tbh (example: The guy wasn’t in in the group’s leadership. He was the boyfriend of a leader. “Queer-identified” straight folks. Endless lol)

          2. the_scientist*

            Seriously, I’ve been thinking back to this and laughing for a solid 45 minutes now.

      3. Artemesia*

        Hilarious example. I did some work with a youth group in Singapore one time that was preparing people to go out into surrounding third world countries to do service projects. There was a lot of ‘everyone sit on the floor legs crossed and take each others’ hands and then we will all stand up without touching the floor’ This was lovely for the 20 year olds in the group but not so much for the old lady. Have me sit on the floor for a meeting for an hour or two and I am not getting up from there.

      4. Chinook*

        ““Because chairs can be restricting, we sit on the floor.””

        I am another one that sees this as ableist as well as short-sighted. Chairs are restrictive because they demand they be sat in. Sitting on the floor is just as restrictive (especially if you have no fore-warning and wear the wrong type of skirt/dress).

        A more empowering style of meeting was done at my last 2 day conference with a lot of field staff (who dig ditches all day). Randomly, and quietly, they would get up from the conference tables and stand against a wall. Then, they would sit back down again. I followed their pattern and, after 2 days in a hotel ballroom, was still not in pain! Not everyone did it but it was empowering to feel free to make the choice for what feels best for me (as long as it didn’t harm others).

        1. Anx*

          It’s a small thing, but spontaneous ‘adventures’ and floor sitting and other attempts to ‘shake things up’ can end up putting people, especially women, in a weird position about their clothes.

          I feel so vain not wanting to ruin my clothes or expose myself in these situations or having dressed in more restrictive clothing in the first place.

          1. Elysian*

            Yeah I have only trained myself to sit “like a lady” in a chair because I have to (and often I don’t, and just drape a scarf over my lap and call it a day). There is no way I am getting onto or off the floor in a pencil skirt without serious issues.

          2. NinaK*

            and their bodies! If I sit on the floor I can’t hide my ‘muffin top’ under the conference room table!

    3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      But it doesn’t sound like this group is punishing people who don’t want to do this. If OP makes a joke about needing coffee and passes to the next person, on a consistent basis, it sounds like that’s an OK thing to do.

      1. Pill Helmet*

        The “punishment” is the part about white knuckling it through the meeting and being made to feel uncomfortable because she has to either participate of self exclude by making an excuse each time. It would be one thing to ask for volunteers and see what happens, but to go around the table and call people out specifically puts people on the spot. Internally OP may feel anxiety over it (punitive) and ultimately becomes not-a-team-player by always passing the buck (punitive).

        1. Artemesia*

          I don’t even have a giant objection to the end of the meeting ‘how do you feel about what we have accomplished’ because that does allow for keeping it focussed on the business at hand. The stuff on the front end of the meeting is creepy intrusive. Those of us who like to get stuff done are driven nuts by this kind of la la waste of time.

  8. CAinUK*

    To be fair, the OP mentioned that the Touchy Feely boss has since ceased with the 1-2-1 check-ins, and so she is respecting that boundary. So further confrontation is really about whether the OP gets the feeling that others in the committee are as put-off by this approach in the meetings.

    If others are put off (and OP could ask them–in confidence–in a light-hearted way after the next meeting), then I think it would be beneficial for someone ELSE to approach the boss and mention that folks want to change the Touchy Feely stuff (otherwise it might look like the OP is on a campaign, even after the boss respected the request to stop 1-2-1 check-ins). If nobody else sees it as a problem, though, then it is unfortunately a culture thing.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Yes but even though the OP isn’t forced to do any touchy feely stuff, this meeting structure itself sounds like a waste of time. I bet the three hours could be cut in half if the co-chair stopped asking about personal lives and feelings.

      1. INTP*

        This is my main issue with it. I bet without the emotional check ins these meetings could be a lot shorter and maybe even during the regular workweek. I’d find the touchy feely stuff mildly annoying (don’t get me wrong, I hate sharing feelings at work, but I’m a good liar and don’t mind making up something superficial in these situations) but the showing up on Saturday and having a significant amount of time wasted on that would be absolutely infuriating.

        1. CAinUK*

          Personally I agree! But what we don’t know is whether the others in the meeting feel the same way, and that is an important piece of info before the OP decides to broach it IN the meeting or approach this as a “we” vs “me” issue. And if others do feel the same, I still suggest someone else speaks up since it will carry more impact to the chair (since OP already spoke up).

        2. Not So NewReader*

          The amount of time involved would be my primary focus.
          OP, can people who want to do this come 15 minutes early and let those who do not want to do this come at the start of the real meeting?
          Actually, I am picturing something that takes 45 minutes to an hour on each end of the meeting. That would do me in.
          I belonged to a group that had 3-4 hour meetings where nothing was accomplished because we were sharing feelings. Needless to say, people quit in large numbers. It was sad, but I understood why.

  9. The IT Manager*

    I have no issues with the check-out. It’s relevant to the meeting/work.

    The check-in, ewww! I addition absolutely hating enforced sharing, it sounds like a waste of time. You’re a volunteer, attending a three hour (!!!)* meeting on a Saturday. That check-in time could be better spent on business.

    * I do acknowledge that a three hour monthly meeting is better, less time consuming, and less invasive than weekly one hour meeting would be, but still three hours is a long time to be sitting in a meeting.

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Some people cannot relate to people in any other way, OP, and it sucks because I’m like you.  (I suspect a lot of qualified professionals in work environments would react like us too.)

    This woman sounds like she’s highly paranoid about what you all think of her leadership and she wants to make sure she has everyone’s buy-in and approval all the time.  Both of these are terrible qualities.

    I would have left a long time ago if I were you, but AAM’s advice is really good.  My hunch (and I’m DYING for an update) is that she probably won’t change because that’s how she wants to relate to people.  (Ironically this results in poor morale and productivity.)  My experience with people like this is they can’t just focus on process and the end result because they get bogged down personal feelings and feedback.

    In order to be in her inner circle, you had to share a trauma with my ex-boss.  I didn’t have any trauma of the caliber she was hoping for, but even if I did, I never thought it was appropriate to share, especially with her.  Bonus: men were exempt from her unspoken requirements!

    Coworkers and professional contacts are -NOT- your family, friends or therapist.  We are not all one big family.  If you are looking for those types of relationships, please seek them with people you actively choose instead of those who know you by chance.

    1. JustMe*

      OMG this! I once had a manager say to me in a HR meeting that she wishes for us (her team) to be one big happy family. I looked at her with the ‘you are weird’ face. She was very inappropriate and unprofessional in her day to day. I’m not at work seeking familial relationships with people I work with. I am friendly with whom I work with and have made a few good friends along the way. The thing is I chose them and vice versa.

    2. hbc*

      Ew, this reminds me of a teacher I had once where 1/3 of the grade was participation, and at least half the week was spent in circles talking about issues and feelings and whatnot. It was well known that crying during talk time was a guaranteed A.

      1. TL -*


        Was this college or primary school? Because being in a circle of crying people sounds like my own personal hell, right there. And in college I would have just left, but in primary school there’s not much you can do about it.

      2. Shiarah*

        This reminds me of a high school English class where we were required to keep a journal of our personal thoughts and feelings, to be handed in periodically for the teacher to read, write in her comments/advice (!) and assign a grade. I remember overhearing conversations about coordinating some kind of fake drama (a teen pregnancy, IIRC) and having a bunch of kids drop hints about their “friend” and her “situation” in their journals, without revealing details, to see how long it would take the teacher to freak out about it publicly. Alas, I don’t think anyone ever followed through with this plot.

        1. pony tailed wonder*

          We had that too. That teacher also left her room unlocked and students would sneak in and read other people’s journals and make the info public all the time. Awful times.

        2. Cordelia Naismith*

          To be fair, journaling is a legitimate educational technique for teaching writing. The best way to learn how to write is to practice writing, and a writing journal gives you daily writing practice. However, when I was a high school English teacher, I didn’t ask my kids to write about their feelings; I gave them specific writing prompts for their journals. I didn’t want to read their diaries, after all — I just wanted them to practice writing!

          1. Cordelia Naismith*

            Oh, to clarify — my journal topics were things like “If you were creating a soundtrack for To Kill a Mockingbird, name one song you would include and why” or “Name one actor (living or dead) you would cast if you were directing Romeo and Juliet and what part they would play. Explain why they would be a good fit for that role.” Things like that, not personal details about my students’ lives.

            1. simonthegrey*

              I do a lot of “read this short article and respond with pertinent questions” kinds of journals for my comp students.

      3. OriginalEmma*

        Are you sure you weren’t on an episode of Community? I’m thinking of Troy in theater class. “MY EMOTIONS!”

  11. Clever Name*

    I used to attend a women’s group where we would do similar check-ins, and I did enjoy that. However, I would not enjoy the same thing in a meeting such as you describe, OP. The difference is that one of the purposes of the women’s group is for women to connect and support each other. The purpose of a board meeting is ostensibly to further the mission of the organization. It sounds like the co-chair is using the captive audience as a source of free group therapy for her.

    1. Stellanor*

      I attended a similar group and then left when I realized meeting to share my feelings made me want to chew off my own arm. In my defense I was told it would be useful for networking. It was not NEARLY useful enough for networking to get me to overcome my natural aversion to discussing my feelings.

      It was a little weird, I got a lot of pushback about wanting to leave.

  12. Allison*

    If she really wants to know how people are feeling, she should have no problem with hearing how people *feel* about those check-ins in meetings. People should certainly feel safe being honest about their feelings, when they feel those feelings are relevant to the meeting and they feel like they need to share, but no one should feel like they have to share what they’re feeling. Sometimes people’s feelings are neutral, or not relevant to what’s going on. If nothing else, people should feel free to opt out of those check-ins.

  13. Anonymosity*

    A nonprofit I worked for had a cheer. A CHEER. We did it at company meetings to promote a sense of teamwork. I though it promoted a sense of stupid–I felt so uncomfortable doing it that I just moved my mouth to the words.

    1. Snoskred*

      Anonymosity – I must DECLINE this cheer concept with extreme prejudice! :)

      In all the workplaces I have been in, the staff would have made up their own version of this cheer and it would not have been pretty! There would have been more than one swear word I am sure..

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I see your nonprofit cheer and raise you A SONG!

      Last week, I talked about my first internship where the CEO took the lion’s share of personal expenses for her salary and hired more unpaid interns (15) over paid, FT staff (3) to give the public impression that overhead expenses were low.  (Not having report unpaid workers helps A LOT in this endeavor.)

      This was a women’s group that had its own fight song.  The CEO actually hired a songwriter to do this so members could sing it at meetings and other events.  The song was really ironic too as it was all about giving women equal opportunity and fighting for rights and all that when in reality the CEO only took men out to lunch and regularly promoted them while assigning women all the admin work.  She also liked to host workshops on make up and wardrobe.  For reals.

      1. AMG*

        As long as you have makeup and shoes, why would a girl want to worry her pretty head about a promotion? Worry causes wrinkles.

          1. Carrington Barr*

            … annnnnnd that’s what I get for posting Simpsons quotes before refreshing the page. Dammit.

            Anonsie wins this one. :)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I see your cheer and your song and raise you a Christmas song.
        “What? Just had a major loss in your life and do not feel like singing? Too damn bad, do it anyway.”
        “Huh? What do you mean you had the kind of childhood where you never learned the words to Frosty the Snowman? Not a reason. Go sing it anyway.”

        Karma is a real thing.

    3. Chuchundra*

      In my short career as a vacuum cleaner salesman, we used to start every morning meeting with a little cheer/song.

      “Do we sell the Kirby? Yes we sell the Kirby.”

  14. Megan*

    so, my first reaction is that that was weird and over the line. I did have one thought, though, that may make it make more sense. OP mentioned that this is advocacy work–is it tough subject matter? I have a friend who works on sexual and gender based violence issues and I know her boss is very supportive of self care and mental health because that kind of work can wear on you. This seems extreme, but maybe that’s where she’s coming from? (or I’m reading too much into it)

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      This is what I’m wondering. I think it makes a HUGE difference what kind of advocacy the group is engaging in.

      1. the_scientist*

        I think it does and it doesn’t, though. Self-care and mental health is hugely important when you are dealing with traumatic situations, certainly. But “let’s share what is going on in your life” is not the way to go about this, because not everyone is comfortable sharing intimate details in a group setting, while some people will massively over-share. I think I have mentioned this previously, but I was a volunteer EMT for several years and often led and participated in debriefs of traumatic situations. Generally, the debriefs only include the people that were actually there, and further debriefing on an individual basis might be done. No one should ever, ever be put on the spot to share with a larger group.

        Also, in this type of meeting, open-ended sharing usually isn’t all that productive. Directed sharing about specific projects typically is useful, if the meeting is also used to talk about proposed solutions- if people are bringing up the same problems over and over because nothing is going to change, it will quickly become an exercise in frustration.

        1. the_scientist*

          I should also mention, that the only type of “debriefing” that would be done in group settings, in my experience, would be to talk about procedural issues. For example, if I responded to a traumatic call (say a suicide attempt) and then the paramedics that showed up were rude, dismissive and belittling of the care we’d provided; immediately shoving us out of the way and barring us from wrapping up the scene and properly transferring care, that would be something that would add to my distress and frustration about the entire scenario. But in a group debrief, I’d never talk about my personal emotions with respect to the suicide attempt, because that would be done at a smaller or solo debrief. Instead, I’d talk about the patient hand-off experience, and what we as a group could do to build better relationships and ensure no one else has a similar experience. So the group debrief is focused on something that everyone would be impacted by, and for which we might be able to brainstorm solutions. Critical incident debriefing should really only be done with those directly affected, i.e. the ones attending or witnessing the scene.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This is a great example of good leadership. I am sure these debriefings and private 1-on-1’s did a lot to help the group perform better.

    2. Kay*

      This was also my first thought. I have volunteered for a few intimate partner violence non profits and this kind of thing would be absolutely normal or at least would be similar to what they practice. If that’s the kind of org this is, I can understand it and don’t actually have a problem with it- these are very difficult subject matters, with extremely high turnover, much of which can be attributed to burnout. Self care and emotional check ins can help prevent this in volunteers and employees.

    3. Anonsie*

      That’s what I was going to ask as well. We did some talks like this (though not quite as institutionalized) when I was volunteering as counselor because it helped shift your mindset over for talking to your counsel-ees, and we do a little bit of this where I am now during conferences where particularly distressing patient cases are discussed.

    4. Chinook*

      “I know her boss is very supportive of self care and mental health because that kind of work can wear on you”

      In specific circumstances (like crisis counselling NP), I could see it being valuable in the same way that our guys start with a safety meeting every morning. But the circumstances matter. Asking our head office staff to meet every morning to review our hazards (i.e. fire drills, moving a file box, looking for spilled coffee) is a waste of time and woudl get eye rolls. Asking our field guys their hazards (ex: to review recent bear spottings, possible rock falls and any changes in the work environment) makes perfect sense. But, having it as a blanket policy for all departments would only make it seem less important in the field.

    5. Anx*

      I’m wondering if she’s coming from a place where this model was more appropriate? Perhaps similar subject matter in a different group environment?

      I’ve had a job where there were so-called safe spaces (and for the most part, they were, but that’s another story) to discuss personal issues. It seemed appropriate at the time because we were in a sense peer advocates and workers, going through many similar issues as the community we served. Also, the job was 24/7. We worked and lived with our coworkers. There really was no option for leaving your personal problems home.

      I wouldn’t want that same dynamic doing similar work in a different context or from a less immersive position.

    6. OP*

      Hey, OP here! That’s a super important distinction, I think. We promote resources and opportunities for young people in the arts, within a larger organization that represents a geographical region. So, it’s not tough subject matter — we’re planning social events, applying for grants, organizing panels, etc.

      HOWEVER I know that the co-chair works with a lot of other organizations that deal with sexual violence, mental health, and other pretty heavy subjects. Her example when she was explaining the purpose of the check-in was, “If something triggering happened to you on your way to this meeting, this is a safe space to talk about that or to warn us that you had that experience and are feeling sensitive about certain subjects.” She referenced all the news about Jian Ghomeshi as a possible triggering event.

      So I wonder if it’s a habit from other committees that she’s worked that she’s brought over here? I get it as a concept, but like, mostly people are just using the check-in to talk about projects they’ve been working on or a job they got recently.

      1. Amtelope*

        Wow. I would feel super uncomfortable having people who I was working with in an arts organization talk about “something triggering that had happened to them on the way to the meeting.” To me, that is a conversation to have with a friend or a mental health professional. I’d be pushing back hard against the very idea that this is an appropriate thing to encourage unless your organization consists of people whose profession is dealing with trauma.

      2. fposte*

        I think you’re right about the origins, and I think it’s interesting that people have apparently modified it to their tastes. So it sounds like it’s not situationally appropriate but it’s also stave-off-able.

        (Is this in Canada? I thought Canada was more resistant to this kind of thing, but maybe not.)

      3. zora*

        Yeah this makes a little more sense. I have been part of more spiritual groups and other groups that did things like this regularly and I really liked it. But the key is context. I wouldn’t like things like that in a more professional organization, it’s not appropriate to encourage personal over-sharing when people haven’t overtly selected the group for that kind of activity. Seems like she’s slightly clueless in not paying attention to the fact that it’s a different kind of group and people are reacting to these activities differently.

        I fully support you doing what Alison said and trying to point out this difference to her gently. I get why it is grating on your nerves so much. ;o) I hope she catches on.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        This comment is buried, but I hope you see it, OP. It could be she is thinking of it as “art therapy”. And there are so many artists that have had terrible lives, it almost seems like there is a pattern of suffering that drives the artwork.

        A friend quit drinking and also quit drawing. The sadnesses in life seem to fuel the imagination for some people.

        Maybe she thinks all artists are sad/suffering individuals. This means that she thinks you guys are doing some kind of rehab work on these folks.

        Maybe try explaining to her that you all are interested in art for the sake of art, NOT art for the sake of it’s therapeutic value. You don’t provide therapy to those you serve. Therefore you do not need to be each other’s therapists.

        OR: It could be that she sees opportunity for the other groups she is involved with and wants to weave them into your group at some point. So she thinks she is preparing all of you for this??? That is a long shot. But I have seen stuff like this happen, too.

  15. nona*

    Ugh. Ew. I have no idea what I would do about this. It’s weirdly and uncomfortably intimate, for lack of a better word.

    Has she worked in mental health herself? Is she some kind of therapist or studying to be one? I don’t get why she thinks she should do this.

  16. fposte*

    I think this is somebody who’s confusing the role she’d like to play in people’s lives with the role she’s actually in. As Clever Name notes, there are situations where this is an appropriate tool. But this isn’t a support group whose goal is internal personal wellness, it’s an other-focused advocacy board. How much time is there even left to do the work once you take out all the personal stuff? And if somebody does decide it’s confessional time and talks for an hour, does she redirect or does she think she’s struck gold?

    1. Sadsack*

      OP should go on about her cat’s trust issues or something like that one day and see where the conversation goes.

    2. OP*

      Fortunately everyone’s pretty good at keeping it light! There’s, I think, 30 minutes on the schedule for it, and it routinely takes 10 minutes or less. There’s only 10 of us including c0-chairs, and at 10am on a Saturday we are men and women of few words. But even then, I would so much rather just get down to work.

      1. fposte*

        If it’s only ten minutes and people have already sidetracked it from the emotional stuff, I’d be inclined to let it go. A ten minute warmup for people you only see once a month isn’t a bad thing. What this person *wants* to do is annoying, but the actual effect seems pretty limited.

        1. zora*

          yeah, 10 minutes isn’t super bad. But still, for a group like this it would still annoy me. There is work we could be getting done in that 10 minutes. For a volunteer commitment, I really want to feel like all of my time is being used as efficiently as possible. I’m giving you my time for free, so wasting 10 minutes on stuff like this in every single meeting adds up, and I’d rather spend that being more productive.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            And this is exactly the gist of what I would say when it became my turn to express my feelings.

            Okay, maybe not the coolest move. It would depend on the specifics of the situation, but under certain circumstances I could see myself saying something like that.

  17. Sadsack*

    I am curious if anyone else at these meetings actually shares anything meaningful, or if they all just seem to say something to get through it.

  18. hildi*

    Contrary to how into self-awareness and personal reflection I am, I think it’s totally understandable, OP, that you are feeling like shutting down and withdrawing in the face of this intensive probing on her part. I am a BIG self-discloser, but on my terms. I often do not speak up in groups until I know that I can trust them with myself. But that’s a different discussion, I think.

    One thing jumped out at me: That you said when you pushed back on the invasiveness of the meetings, she made a note and moved on. If she truly didn’t penalize you (emotionally) for speaking up and has eased up on the intensity of the check ins with you, then I’d take that as a sign she might be truly interested in your feelings and capable of handling them. In other words, you might take it as a sign that you can trust her with your unvarnished thoughts on the subject. I am HIGHLY interested in others’ feedback about things I’m doing because I don’t want to alienate anyone or make them uncomfortable. I understand the process of getting people to speak up can have the opposite effect, but I take it as a sign of respect when someone is willing to be hones with me. If you otherwise esteem this woman, then I think it’s a sign of respect to be honest with her. You repsect her enough to tell her that what she’s doing is in fact bothering you, because if she’s genuine about that she’ll be mortified she made you uncomfortable.

    So – the next big thing, then, is in HOW you do it. I think Alison’s direct approach is the way to go. I would urge you to add in some sort of softener that shows you understand she cares about everyone and you appreciate that, etc. etc. You don’t have to go on and on in this vein, but an acknowledgment of what she values I think will help her be more willing to hear what you have to say. “hildi, I really appreciate how you seem to care about the health of this group and are willing to take the time to check in with us. I’m sure it’s not the effect you’re intending to have, but the frequency and intensity of the check-ins are making it difficult for me to focus on the work, which is what I value and gives me the most personal satisfaction……etc.” I don’t really know about the last part of it. But if I was the woman you’re talking about, I would feel a little more comfortable if you acknowledged that I’m coming at it from a place of honest concern for people….and then you can lay into me. :)

    This advice is totally moot if she’s not the type of person that can handle direct, but gentle feedback. But if she is, I think you could probably have a really good discussion about what each of you needs and wants surrounding this issue. Good luck.

    1. Anonsie*

      If she truly didn’t penalize you (emotionally) for speaking up and has eased up on the intensity of the check ins with you, then I’d take that as a sign she might be truly interested in your feelings and capable of handling them.

      Agreed. You were easily able to dismiss the checkins and they’re not pressuring you to give more personal updates overall, so I think it’s safe to assume she will be receptive and go into it with that attitude.

      1. hildi*

        Totally agree on that last part. OP, if you go into the conversation with the perspective that you’re going to give her the benefit of the doubt, you’ll automatically come across as more agreeable, which only strengthens your position and will more likely to get her to listen to you. But if you go in with the framework of wanting to chest-thump your boundaries back into place, then you’re going to come across as harsher than you might like. And you’re obviously dealing with someone that is more likely to be sensitive to interpersonal conflict, so I predict you’ll have more luck if you don’t go in being overly aggressive. If you have a good discussion with her and are able to share your perspective on it and going forward she knowingly and willingly violates your boundaries? Chest thump away.

          1. hildi*

            haha!! Well, you guys are all way wittier that I am, so all these sarcastic responses are educational for me, too!

    2. Jo*

      Mostly agreed; this is partly what I came to say. I noted two promising moments in the OP’s letter: the OP was able to jokingly skim past the emotional check-in with no mention of pushback from the co-chair; and the co-chair seems to have respected the OP’s request not to be checked on privately outside of meetings. We have every reason to think she’ll listen and be receptive to the OP’s perspective on how meetings should be run. Especially if the OP takes the opportunity to speak the co-chair’s language by talking about how this affects her internally, e.g., “I feel put on the spot / I find it more satisfying to focus on the substance of our work / I feel uncomfortable getting personal during meetings.”

      While some softening might be okay, I’d actually advise using purely “I” statements, and avoid statements that turn it around to describe or diagnose the co-chair, no matter how well-intentioned and sympathetic (e.g. “it seems like you feel / I appreciate that you want / I’m sure you etc. “). This technique has caused me personally to crash and burn in difficult conversations with people whose boundaries and comfort zones are different from mine. In my experience, trying to preemptively show you understand the other person’s perspective often backfires, unless that person has just been explaining their perspective directly to you. Wait for her to explain her intentions (I’ve no doubt she will), and then feel free to validate/appreciate them.

  19. Coffee, Please*

    I agree with you that a board meeting should be focused on substantive work and more strategically scheduled than check-ins. However, I do think a lot of people use their volunteer time to fill a relational goal. I work with a lot of volunteers and here’s how I do it:
    9:30 am Coffee and Check-in
    10 am: Meeting begins
    No more than 2 hours later: Definite meeting end time
    Then those who are interested in the connection come early and several other volunteers just come at the meeting start time. Also some volunteers choose to hang out after for a few minutes chatting.

    1. Anonsie*

      That’s a really interesting point, actually, I wonder if that has a lot to do with it.

    2. OP*

      Oh man, I would be totally fine with that! The frustrating thing is that I REALLY LIKE everyone on the committee and enjoy socializing with them — in an unstructured way. The formality of, ”And now we’ll have fifteen to twenty minutes of bonding before we begin our work,” makes me feel like I’m back at summer camp. It’s infantalizing, you know? I think your tactic is dead on.

      1. Coffee, Please*

        Yes the structure seems out of place. From your other comments, I agree this seems like a hold-over from more stressful situations that the co-chair works in.

        When you are friends with people and enjoy connecting, you don’t need a facilitator!

  20. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    I’m honestly having a hard time figuring out why this is so onerous! It sounds like most of the meeting is spent on-topic, and that the check-in/check-out is a minor part of it. It sounds like you can demur and pass to the next person without penalty. And it sounds like this is all being done for a reason; to make the space safe, which typically means it’s trying to be a place where people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and everyone else can contribute without feeling oppressed. I mean, if it’s not accomplishing those goals, or if it’s taking an hour and a half of a three-hour meeting, absolutely re-examine, but it seems like having to wave away a single personal question at the beginning of the meeting, and listening to other people around you who value that part of the meeting more, is not that big of a cost if indeed it’s accomplishing those goals.

    I too get tired of touchy-feely stuff in a professional environment on occasion, but I think it’s usually far better than the alternative, especially when you can wave them off without being penalized. And if this is indeed an advocacy group that has any intersection with identity issues, it’s possible that it’s an essential part of the meeting for people who are an identity that OP is not (for example).

    1. Mike C.*

      It’s a giant invasion of someone’s personal space. It feels gross and makes lots of people feel uncomfortable.

    2. Anonsie*

      Yeah I don’t want to tell people my feefees* in a meeting either, but if they ask and I’m free to say “eh I’m fine” and they’re cool with that and move on, I don’t think that’s particularly unreasonable. The tone could easily make it grating, I suppose, but so could a lot of pretty acceptable meeting practices in all honesty.

      *So opposed am I, in fact, that my natural inclination here is to refuse to acknowledge that I have feelings by not even using the word

    3. BananaPants*

      In most professional or volunteer environments, is there really a need to make a “safe space”? I hope this organization is working in an area with tough stuff to deal with, because if it’s a Friends of the Library or Save Our Downtown Parks sort of organization then this absurd personal check in/check out serves no purpose.

      I would be very uncomfortable to have to relate a personal issue in front of others at the start of every board meeting. The board is there to organize and direct the work of the organization, not to serve as free therapy. I’d probably quit the board if expected to do so.

    4. Amtelope*

      I’m honestly unsure how asking people to talk about their feelings and personal life is supposed to make a space safer for anybody (and, yes, I am a member of some of the groups you named.) I am much more likely to feel threatened by being asked to disclose irrelevant personal information about myself than by working together with people in a professional fashion to get work done. I’m really trying to understand the mindset that asking people to talk about what’s going on in their personal lives might make them feel safer in a professional setting, and completely failing. Can you explain how you see this working?

      1. LBK*

        Exactly. Particularly because this is done in front of everyone, it doesn’t feel safe to me at all.

      2. Tinker*

        The funny thing for me is that my discomfort with the notion actually has a lot to do with my being queer, as well as neuroatypical — it’s often quite effortful for me to formulate personal disclosures about my immediate experience, and I often find that an accurate answer is not something that makes sense in the social context I am in at the time that I’m asked. Also, I have a history both of disclosures being higher risk than it perhaps is for some people, of not having my boundaries with regard to disclosures or other social participation respected, and of having disclosures have immediate or delayed follow-on consequences even if the person is in the moment claiming that they will not do this.

        Even if a given person is in fact both intending and actually capable of being respectful and safe, those factors are an influence on my experience regardless. It’s not something I’m generally comfortable with in a professional setting, particularly since my implementation of a professional setting is not one that calls for a lot of emotional intimacy.

        1. Amtelope*

          Yes. I’m a lesbian, and even in a context where I am out and believe that no on in the room has a problem with my sexual orientation, “tell the whole group about your personal life” in a work context provokes reflexive discomfort. I have to run through the mental checklist that’s been important to me at various times in my life — is it safe to tell these people things that will reveal that I’m queer, do I want to deal with disapproval even if I think there won’t be serious consequences, will this make everything awkward?

          Even if my answers to those questions are that absolutely nothing bad will happen as a result of talking about being queer, or even if I choose to share something that has nothing to do with being queer, it’s still put me in a defensive place just to have to run through that checklist. I wouldn’t be in that defensive place if no one had asked me to share my feelings and information about my personal life with coworkers. For me, this kind of “check-in” would make the situation feel much less safe.

        2. Tau*

          I’m queer and non-NT and not generally out about either of those things, so I hear you here.

          …also, on the non-NT front, I have issues with alexithymia – I don’t generally *know* how I’m feeling, and trying to figure it out on the occasions where I’m coming up blank can be quite distressing. Also, it appears to weird people out if you have to pause and think when asked how you’re feeling. Obviously not a common issue, but it means that the idea of being asked how I’m feeling in front of a room full of people on a regular basis when I am attempting to pass as NT sounds like the ninth circle of hell.

    5. OP*

      I totally see your point, and I really struggled to articulate why I found the process difficult. As you mention, I understand the importance of a safe space, and we’re a diverse group of people with a lot of different backgrounds and identities that need to be acknowledged.

      What bugs is that on days when I walk into the meeting hating my life, my job, my roommate, my sex life, my body, and generally everything in the entire world (which is often) then I’m given my solo time to talk about what’s going on, I can either a) spill and put a spotlight on my feelings, which would be stressful and unproductive, b) lie and put up a positive facade, which for me would make matters worse, or c) make a joke and pass it off. I would rather come to the meeting and be productive as a method of working through my other stuff, rather than talking about it or ignoring it.

      You’re right that I’m not facing any negative repercussions from not participating in the check-in, but I am the only person who routinely does not participate, which makes me wonder if the repercussions are not going to come later.

      1. fposte*

        But it sounds like nobody really participates in the check-in as she intends it. I mean, I think it’s fine to talk to her and see about changing this, but I also think it’s fine for you to decide what this time is and not accept her terms, since it sounds like that’s what’s going on anyway. It’s not about a facade vs. honesty, it’s about figuring out what you’d share if this is ten minutes for you to catch up with your committee colleagues. You can update on your cats, update on your broken appliance, update on the work project you’re messing with, whatever.

        It sounds like for you an issue may be that you really do have emotional stuff going on that you might want to talk about somewhere, but since it’s not there, the dissonance is particularly annoying. But this doesn’t sound that different from the non-close coworker who headtilts at you and coos “Oh, I heard about the breakup–how are you doing?” You can have sadness and anger and still choose your own space for sharing it.

      2. Delyssia*

        In that situation, I would be tempted to say something like “I really truly don’t want to go into details, but I’m pretty much hating the world right now, which is why I’m really looking forward to shifting my focus to [meeting-related topic].”

        To be clear, I think it’s absolutely okay if you don’t want to reveal even that much, but if it would be comfortable, it’s an option other than spilling all, lying, or joking it off.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I see two problems. One is that she does this at every. single. meeting. Jeepers, go out for coffee together after the meeting. That would have a similar result.

        The other problem I see is as you are saying, not everyone wants to talk about their life. I have been through two points in my life (lasting for several years) that if you asked my how things are going, I would burst into tears.

        I have two suggestions. Be prepared. Have some silly little thing lined up to mention. “I got my car fixed this week, Yah!”

        And listen to what other people are sharing. They are probably sharing something that sits on the perimeter of their lives but very little that is at the core of their lives. Count how many people offer a superficial answer. And then realize that she is very aware of how many people are doing this. So you are looking for answers such as “my cat had kittens” or “my son aced a very hard test”. There’s no meat and potatoes there, it’s superficial stuff.

  21. Mena*

    Oh my, how controlling to impose her preferences on the group. Everyone is expected to operate how she likes to operate? And all in a passive-aggressive manner. This would be a deal breaker for me, however deep my commitment to the group.

    Good luck!!

  22. Sara*

    Ugh. I had a manager like this and it was the worst. We started every Monday staff meeting by rating how we were feeling on a scale of 1-10 and would do exercises like “choose a childhood toy that best describes your personality and strengths.” We once had a meeting where we had to draw self portraits with crayons according to how we felt about ourselves. Her favorite employee was a woman who would go to her with all of her relationship issues. In fact, I was taken aside once by this manager because she was concerned that I didn’t come to her to talk about issues in my personal life. I told her I had a very happy marriage and that conversations like that in a professional setting make me uncomfortable since she was my boss (and she had been married 4 times, so I really wouldn’t think of her as my first choice for relationship advice — I obviously didn’t say that). Did I mention that this job was with a PR firm?

    Yeah, I left that job. People like that aren’t normal and don’t run high-functioning operations.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I would rather gnaw off my own arm than talk about those things with my colleagues.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Choose a childhood toy that best describes your personality and strengths.

      The first thing I think of is “No, I will not put energy into this stupid question.” It’s downhill after that.

      1. Alison Hendrix*

        A Lego – helpful as part of a team, but if you step on me I can hurt you.

  23. The Other Dawn*

    Could be worse. The manager could hug everyone as they file in and out of the meeting. ICK. I would be tempted to just make up a bunch of stuff based on sitcoms I watch and just change the names.

    1. MaryMary*

      It would be even better if you didn’t change the names! “I went to the most awkward wedding last weekend, my friend Ross said his ex-girlfriend’s name at the altar, instead of his wife’s.”

    2. Ailsa AbuDhabi*

      This happens in The Office! Michael makes them all talk about a time they lost someone they loved. I think they recount the plots of Million Dollar Baby and The Lion King before he catches on.

      1. EB*

        I was wondering why I remembered someone talking about Weekend at Bernies in response to an overshare meeting.

  24. TheSnarkyB*

    This is actually quite normal in the fields I’ve worked in (social justice, academia, mental health). I think it’s really important that the co-chair stopped doing it with the person who voiced not wanting to. Additionally, it sounds to me like the OP is identifying in themselves some sort of communication problem, and I agree with them. I wish the OP had said something earlier, or had attempted to voice even just an opinion about it, sooner so that we had more data about how that may have gone.
    This type of practice can be helpful and appropriate, but it depends on the norms of that field of work, and it depends on how much choice people are given. As Pill Helmet said above, it’s about giving people the chance to opt out as well. However, I think it’s important to note that for some people, especially people who may be struggling in non-obvious ways, an open and sharing workplace like this can be really healthy, which is why this is often used in workplaces that deal with social justice issues or that actively try to acknowledge them (such as mental health), which often means making space in every environment for the “personal” to interact somewhat with the “professional.” Because we’re all people, all the time.
    Here’s an example:
    It has been immensely helpful to me when I can walk into my office, and I can say “I’m not doing well today. I’m still here to work, but I would really like minimal social interaction and lively chatter – I’m distracted and distraught by the non-indictments of Eric Garner’s killer and Michael Brown’s, so I just need some space.”
    Or similarly to say, “It’s a really bad day for my health (mine is back problems, but you can insert any invisible or visible disability here), and it’s affecting me emotionally. I think I would be more productive today if we could do .. (enter xyz solution) as much as possible.”

    It is not appropriate for anyone to try and therapize you in your workplace, especially without your permission or consent, but it sounds like this co-chair is just trying to create an open and listening space, and it sounds like that approach doesn’t work for OP. But I also think we should take OP at their word that they want to improve how they communicate about this, because I think it’s necessary to voice a preference before you go on about how you may quit the committee, etc., which strikes me as adversarial, and also should not speak for others without discussing it with them first.

    1. BananaPants*

      I have to be honest – reading this makes me glad that I work in a technical field where a “safe space” is literally an area where one will not be physically injured by moving equipment, and a “trigger” is a piece of test hardware.

      I’m seriously not cut out for the touchy-feely stuff and would probably do horribly in a work environment having to do with social services or mental health. Maybe I’m just not empathic enough but I’m at work to do work, not to engage in therapy or self-help.

      1. jag*

        I’m extremely non-touchy feely, but work in an organization that is, and does it well. And you know what – in complex environments, with collaboration across people working in different places, with different forms of expertise and different cultures, being empathetic and open to people expressing feeling and recognizing that people have them is really really important to high-performance.

        People shouldn’t be forced to shared, but the organization should be open to it and has to recognize that feelings and personal life affect professional life. Because they do.

      2. Is It Performance Art*

        Yeah, I think it varies a lot by industry. I worked in a scientific field that can be very draining emotionally and can be hazardous. I can’t imagine having any conversations about feelings aside from “it makes me angry that people still suffer and die of this disease and that drives me to continue his work when it gets frustrating”. And even that was rare. If there you have something that is bothering you, you stay home, put it aside and do your work, or spend the day doing paperwork that has later standards. Clearly it attracts a different type of person. Those meetings sound horrible and I would have quit or said something obnoxious by the third meeting.

    2. fposte*

      You commenters with actual experience in initiatives where this would be relevanthave given me a lot of insight into situations where it might be useful–thanks.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Ditto from me. I enjoyed seeing the explanations that tied the sharing of feelings to the work itself. I am very pleased to see that people with tough-tough jobs can “lean” on each other.

    3. Calliope*

      I would honestly not be comfortable with people talking about their personal problems to this extent in the workplace, except in occasional emergency situations. In general, I expect people to either take PTO or show up prepared to work without needing emotional support. That’s not something coworkers should be expected to provide on an ongoing basis — they are not paid to be therapists or supportive listeners for their coworkers, they’re paid to do their own jobs without distractions from others.

      1. katamia*

        I’m with you. I understand “I’m a little under the weather today” or something (which I’ve used for both physical and emotional blahs in the past), but I really wouldn’t want details and I don’t think they’re necessary.

      2. TheSnarkyB*

        Well, that’s fine for you, but different things work for different people. I think it’s a bit unfair that people here (not you) are saying “I’m at work to work.” Duh. But we’re at work for more hours of our lives than we’re doing anything else, and we’re still all people. So if you need an emotion-free zone, that’s fine. But you need to recognize that even that preference is your emotional need, so you also are taking your emotional needs into consideration, just with a different result.
        I don’t have PTO, and I can’t take that or unpaid time off every time I’m having difficulty due to external circumstances, and it might be important for my coworkers to know that. It’s actually quite difficult keeping an even keel while being black and socially conscious every day, and many people of varying differences have that experience, you probably do too in some way.

        It’s also important to note that I said no one should be therapizing you in your workplace. I’m not advocating for a type of response to the emotional sharing, just allowing it in and of itself. Your comment about “coworkers aren’t paid to be therapists” doesn’t really make any sense. And if your coworkers aren’t paid partially to work well amongst one another, then you have a very different workplace than I do and I’m not talking about yours, because I’d be egregiously ill-informed and incapable of doing that, wouldn’t I?

        1. Calliope*

          Coworkers aren’t paid to listen to emotional sharing from their coworkers, because they are not mental health professionals, or other workers who are paid to deal with their coworkers’ emotions. If you can’t get your work done on some days without requiring emotional support from your coworkers, and you have no ability to take time off on those days, I am very sorry that’s true. A business that does not provide PTO doesn’t sound like my idea of a socially progressive workplace.

          However, no matter how unfortunate it is that you are in this situation, it is still true that no one else is in the office to listen to your personal problems or your feelings about them, however sympathetic to those problems they might be. Working with other people is part of their job, but listening to other people’s personal problems is not, except in rare emergencies. I have problems of my own. There are days when I am not at 100% at work because of those problems. But I do the best I can, and I don’t make other people responsible for listening to me overshare — I am responsible for getting my work done without complaining about personal issues, every working day of the year, because that’s what professionals do.

          1. Lindsay J*

            This. An *actually* socially progressive workspace would be one that would allow me to take time off for therapy appointments, or volunteering for causes I support, and that would allow me to work from home if I was feeling too anxious or depressed to come into the workplace. (And would be supportive of trans* and queer issues in concrete ways such as not having gender-differentiated dress-codes, making it easy for someone to go by a name other than their birth name, providing time off for transition-related medical appointments, and providing maternity/paternity benefit and healthcare for same-sex partners).

            I believe a lot in equality and social justice.

            But at the same time, if someone came into work and said, “I’m not doing well today. I’m still here to work, but I would really like minimal social interaction and lively chatter – I’m distracted and distraught by the non-indictments of Eric Garner’s killer and Michael Brown’s, so I just need some space.” I would have difficulty taking them seriously as a professional for a number of reasons.

            Even if I substitute my own pet causes into the equation, I can’t really find empathy for that statement. Part of working is trying to put forward your best self during the workday. I understand that people are people, and that there are going to be days when you’re not able to be 100% on for whatever reason. But you do your best to do good work and be affable to your coworkers.

            And if you’re really unable to do that, saying “Hey, I’m not feeling great today. I came into work because I needed to get X done, but I would really appreciate if y’all handle the rest of the stuff without me unless it’s absolutely necessary that I’m involved,” is loads different to me than the other statement. I don’t think it would matter to me whether it was the Mike Brown verdict, gastrointestinal distress, that you had a big fight with your boyfriend, or whatever – tell me how it affects me/the workday, not about what’s happening to you. (Unless I’m you’re friend. Then, by all means, bitch to me in the lunch room about how bigoted and unfair things are, or how you’re sick to your stomach today, or how Nigel is a jerk.)

            I would also have concerns about someone being “distraught” about a situation that doesn’t involve them personally, to the point where it affected their work product. (But then again, this might just be me because I don’t get it when people mourn celebrity deaths and act like it’s affecting their life in a serious way that Michael Jackson died, either). Atrocities occur all over the world, every day. All over. I literally don’t have the time or the mental space to grieve or be distraught over every terrible thing that might be occuring in the world. Nor does anyone. So why does it become different once there is news coverage? I understand it has social justice implications. I understand it making people angry or sad or scared in a geneal way. (Heck, I am angry, sad, and scared about some of the laws Texas lawmakers put through or tried to put through recenty). But if an incident that happened across the United States (or even close by), where you were not personally involved and do not know anyone personally involved at all, affects you to the point that you’re *distraught* over it, to the point where you have to explain that it’s affecting your work, it’s going to make me wonder about your emotional state in a negative way.

            1. misspiggy*

              That last sentence strikes me as unfairly harsh. You’re entitled to your view, of course, but I would prefer not to work with someone who draws such clear lines across what issues are allowed and not allowed to affect colleagues.

    4. LBK*

      I think there’s a world of difference between building a culture where people feel comfortable being specific about their emotions and one where you set aside dedicated work time to try to force people to talk about them. Not wanting to talk about your feelings is in and of itself a perfectly valid feeling, and unless you’re a mental health professional that I’m paying for treatment, I’m really uncomfortable with you pushing that boundary.

      I’m also on board with those saying this level of emotional honesty would be really off-putting for me to be around, especially from coworkers I didn’t feel particularly close to. It borders on an overshare, which is great for you that you feel comfortable going there but maybe I don’t want to hear it. It honestly comes off a little selfish to me in that way, that your need to feel emotionally honest trumps my desire to maintain boundaries.

      1. Bonnie*

        “…a little selfish to me in that way, that your need to feel emotionally honest trumps my desire to maintain boundaries”
        This rings very true to me.

        @TheSnarkyB in your example when you wrote, ” I would really like minimal social interaction and lively chatter,” is that a request that coworkers minimize chatter and social interactions with each other as well as you? Not sure from the wording. Personally, I am very open with those I am actually close to, but I shut down hard when I feel someone is imposing intimate conversation on me, whether they are prying for my feelings or forcing their own into my attention. My reactions range from cold with reduced eye contact, to quietly angry.

        If I was a coworker in TheSnarkyB’s example I would get the impression that the person sharing was seeking attention.

        1. Amtelope*

          Yes. To me, an appropriate way to say “I don’t feel up to chatting” in the workplace would be “I need to work, so I can’t talk now.” An appropriate way to say “I don’t want you to be chatting with one another” is … harder to come up with, but if they are up in your face with conversations that are driving you crazy, “I need some quiet to work — can you keep it down/I’m going to go work in the conference room/etc.”

          As far as I’m concerned, is no appropriate way to say “I need you to listen to me talk about my feelings” in the workplace. That’s not an appropriate request to make unless you’ve made personal friends in the office who you know are up for this kind of sharing.

          1. Lindsay J*

            I don’t think there is an appropriate way to tell people you don’t want them to be chatting with eachother (unless you’re their boss, and there is a work related reason, and in that case I would focus on the work related issue rather than the chatter itself).

            Keep it down is one thing (assuming the volume is actually excessive) but I think it’s generally on people to change themselves (by deciding to not let the noise bother them, putting on headphones, closing the office door, moving to a quiet conference room, whatever) rather than expecting a bunch of other people to change to accomodate them.

        2. TheSnarkyB*

          No, in the example given, it would apply to how people interact with me, not how they interact with each other. And LBK, I think it’s pretty unfair that you’re accusing me of thinking that my (or anyone’s) “need to feel emotionally honest” (not what I said) should trump any boundary of yours. Boundaries have to be set before they can be pushed, and OP sounds like they’re struggling to come up with the language to set the boundary. I mentioned in my comment that it’s essential that people feel they can opt out as well, and that was specifically so that no one’s needs trump another’s. So no, it’s not about feeling emotionally honest, because I can do that without my coworkers involvement, and it’s not about wanting attention, it’s about being honest about what you need as an employee to feel comfortable and productive in your workplace, and asserting that for yourself while respecting what others need as well.

          All of the comments I’ve made here are simply to provide a counterpoint (which I believe in) to the knee-jerk reactions of “god how horrible” that people are expressing here. This issue, like any other of etiquette or communication on AAM, is context-sensitive and relates to workplace norms. There ARE places where this would be ok, welcome, and woven into the working culture. It’s not like the environments I describe turn into that overnight. They’re comprised of people who have trained in fields where this type of thing is valued, and if they have such a strong reaction to it that they can’t even bear witness to it (bc as I said, they’d be allowed to opt out themselves), then they’d self-select out of that field or workplace in the interview process or otherwise.

          1. Jo*

            I’d guess people are reacting strongly to the part of your comment where you say you might arrive at work and announce, “I need extra space today because I’m distraught about the news” or “My back is acting up again and so I won’t be feeling very chatty today.” In many offices, people would feel very uncomfortable hearing that much specificity from a coworker about their emotional state. I’d feel uncomfortable hearing it unless I was particularly friendly with the person.

            At my last job, doing things this way sometimes made sense, because we were a three-person company sharing one small room as our office, and we all became friendly. After about six months together we could really sense each other’s mood shifts. It was obvious when someone was having a bad day. Most of the time we just let it go without comment; the only times someone articulated their stuff were in extreme/unusual circumstances, like a devastating breakup or the death of a loved one. And in the case of something like a breakup, my peer coworker and I might share with each other but not with the boss. Painful news stories, physical ailments, and just bad moods happen pretty frequently and would result in somebody [over]sharing their feelings on a weekly if not daily basis. That would be too much for me and, I suspect, for most professional people to handle comfortably.

            1. AcademiaNut*

              I work in an environment that isn’t at all touchy feeling, but where people have been incredibly supportive and understanding when issues have come up for employees – illness, mental illness, death in the family – both on an organizational and personal level.

              But having a coworker (or worse yet, a boss) regularly come in, announce the specifics of their mood that day, and expect me to work around it would drive me nuts. It would be a combination of the expectation of intimacy – that I want to know how they are feeling and why – and the implication that it was my job to accommodate their moods. Someone, on occasion, saying “I feel really crappy today – can we reschedule our discussion” would be totally different, as would someone giving me a heads up about something major that’s affecting them.

              It could also be unworkable if everyone picks up the habit, as on any given day, *someone* is feeling grouchy, or sad, or irritable.

              1. Mints*

                I think it also depends on who’s announcing it to whom. (Did I use “whom” correctly?)
                When I first read SnarkyB’s comment, I imagined her announcing it to people she talks to all day, like office mates. This seems a lot more reasonable than announcing it to dozens of people in the office all the time

          2. LBK*

            I don’t agree that boundaries always need to be explicitly set before they can be pushed – we have accepted social standards in the US that you don’t discuss certain things with people who aren’t close friends, especially at work. Medical info, sex life, money and touchy political subjects are the main four that come to mind. I don’t think it’s fair to expect to have to explicitly tell your coworkers “I don’t really want to know the details of your medical status” or “I’d really rather not talk about the Eric Garner case”.

            Being open about your emotional state in a general sense is one thing – I’m really distracted today, I’m not feeling well, whatever. That’s fine if it helps me know how to interact with you that day. But unless we have a close relationship, that’s as much detail as I really want/need to hear, and pushing beyond that does intrude into overriding my boundaries in favor of your emotional needs. Regardless of the culture of the office, there are just some people I’m not close to, and it’s oversharing to hear the details of their lives. I actually do have a coworker now who does this, and if anything it’s made our relationship more distant by constantly having to hear about the nitty gritty of his daily emotions – it feels like he’s forcing his feelings on me when we just don’t have that kind of relationship.

            I have some really close coworkers that I talk to about personal stuff regularly (my out-of-work best friend does actually work at the same company as me, so I see him and discuss personal stuff with him pretty much daily while at work). I’m by no means a “I’m at work to work” person, but that level of intimacy should develop naturally and scale according to the relationship you have with each person, as it would in any context.

            I’m also by no means an expert at shielding my emotional state while I’m at work – I’m actually generally pretty bad at it, but I recognize that it’s not up to my coworkers to support me emotionally, especially when we have work we all need to get done together.

  25. AdAgencyChick*

    Three HOURS of sharing feelings on a SATURDAY? On a volunteer basis? OMG, this sounds like my personal idea of hell. OP, I take your word that the work is fulfilling enough that it’s worth doing in spite of this, so you have my sympathies.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I don’t think it’s three hours of feelings. I get the impression it’s like 15-20 minutes of intro “feelings” and warm-up and maybe 5-10 minutes of check-out single-word feelings as debrief. I suspect if it were 3 hours of feelings-only, OP would have opted-out by now.

        1. fposte*

          It sounds like it may have just turned into ten minutes of everyday-life updates, though. Which I think is pretty common in committees anyway, absent the emotional framework. I don’t like the woman’s focus–it doesn’t seem mission or otherwise appropriate–but it sounds like the committee is already subverting her. Might be worth joining the effort.

      1. Artemesia*

        One way to make a statement would be to routinely arrive 20 minutes late to the meeting and if challenged indicate ‘well we don’t really get down to business until 20 minutes after 1 and I have a lot of things to get done today.’

    2. VintageLydia USA*

      It doesn’t sound like it’s 3 hours of sharing feelings. It sounds like a quick ’round the circle in the beginning, 3 hours of business, and a quick check-in at the end for final questions or individual updates based on any new info discovered at the meeting.

      Honestly this wouldn’t bother me so much. Annoying, a bit, and she does sound a little overbearing, but it doesn’t sound like this is taking a whole ton of time and I’ve certainly been subjected to worse ice-breaker/settling in activities. The OP should still speak up, though, since it seems to be escalating.

  26. Katie the Fed*


    I mean, I’m an empathetic type but noooope. What a terrible idea. Part of being an effective manager is learning to communicate with people the way they need to be communicated with. I can’t talk to two people the same way. Some people tell me everything (sometimes to an oversharing level) and some want to keep everything 100% professional and it’s all cool. You don’t foist this stuff on people who aren’t interested.


    1. AGirlCalledFriday*

      Exactly. I’m a very emotional, touchy-feely type of person…but this is WORK. These are not my *friends* or *family*, this is a group of adults I agree to coexist and collaborate with, to accomplish things and get paid for it. You can’t force intimacy. It can come organically as you work with the same people for a long time, but you can’t just create this atmosphere. Ironically, by forcing people to emotionally expose themselves, it is creating an atmosphere of mistrust and frustration.

  27. Amber Rose*


    We’re starting a mental health initiative here, but a really important thing to know about safe spaces is that being required to talk about your feelings when that causes you distress means you’re not in a safe space. A safe space is just a place where, if you CHOOSE to do so, you can talk about an issue and not be dismissed or put down. A corporate safe space is more like an attitude than a specific place or time*. I feel like your co-chair is having a pretty fundamental misunderstanding about workplace mental health.

    *Though I know there are companies who have like, crying rooms full of stuffed animals and pictures of kittens where employees can go and cry out their stress. I’m not sure how I feel about this honestly.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Whoops, I should add: safe spaces mean you also don’t have to listen to other people’s problems as that can be distressing or triggering or, in LWs case, cause a bad case of eye rolling and frustration.

      1. Amber Rose*

        That’s sort of my feeling too. I just get this mental image of walking down the hall to the copier and hearing someone sobbing every time.

      2. Stellanor*

        I like the idea of a comfy room. Like, a room you can go in when you cannot stand your job for ONE MORE SECOND and need to step away for a minute, or where you can make a quick personal call, or do whatever religious or spiritual thing you do, or whatever. A room with a fat comfy chair and warm lighting and stuff.

        A special crying room, however, is just super creepy.

    2. Panda Bandit*

      I would love a room full of kitten pictures at work but it seems like a solution that isn’t an actual solution. A company could have a terrible environment and feel like they don’t need to change it because they provide their employees with a crying room.

      1. Amber Rose*

        I just put kitten pictures on my cube walls. Works just as well.

        I feel like things would get dismissed really fast. Like “I’m sorry to hear project x isn’t going well. Why don’t you take 5 in the crying room?” Instead of actually dealing with the problems facing project x.

      2. JMegan*

        I was going to say the same thing. Instead of providing a crying room to help your employees deal with stress, how about doing something to make the workplace less stressful? Seems like a better solution in the long run, even if there are kittens involved.

    3. Allison*

      As much as I realize people crying at work isn’t super uncommon, and some people are more prone to crying than others (I myself am a stress crier and it can be really embarrassing), if you think your office needs a room specifically for crying you have an issue that isn’t being addressed properly. And if for some reason you do decide to have a “crying room,” something tells me that stuffed animals and pictures of kittens isn’t the way to go. We’re talking about adults here.

  28. Christian Troy*

    I’m a bit surprised by some of these comments. What OP is describing is not unusual or weird to me; no I don’t personally like it but I know a lot of people who do and it seems especially common in social work/public health arenas where people deal with a lot of emotional burnout and there’s concern about retaining members/volunteers.

    I’d probably try to get a pulse on the situation before saying something because if other people like check ins and talking about their feelings, you might end up singling yourself out as someone who doesn’t understand the culture and isn’t a team player. Like I said, I totally get where you’re coming from, but I’d probably reflect on the context of why these check ins are happening and whether or not other people find them useful.

    1. AGirlCalledFriday*

      Imagine you came into a work meeting, and your supervisor held you down while others started to undress you in front of everyone. You’d feel traumatized, even though you aren’t physically hurt, because others are forcing exposure of what you consider to be very private and personal. This is how it feels to have your innermost feelings forced out of you in display in front of everyone. For a lot of people, discussion about what is private and personal in their lives and the emotions close to their heart, can be a lot like being undressed in public.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        Except at no point is OP being forced to say anything. OP noted that they make a joke, and then pass it to the next person. It doesn’t sound like anyone is being forced to do anything in this scenario at all.

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          No, it’s *implied* force, which is just as problematic as actual force. If everyone is sitting around and participating in a particular activity that the co-chair of the organization has herself incited, it’s going to very much look like this is something mandatory. Actually, if there was a clear statement that this is completely voluntary it would be MUCH less problematic. As it is, it’s not perceived as voluntary which carries the implication therefore that not participating can affect you adversely.

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            But it is perceived as voluntary. OP is opting out every time and didn’t note any repercussions. It sounds like OP just doesn’t like it, which is fine, and the one time OP has mentioned any kind of not liking it to the facilitator, it has stopped. And it could be that there IS a specific disclaimer, and OP didn’t note it.

            I agree it might be more problematic if this were a work event, where you might be worried that your non-participation would affect you adversely in the way you make your living, but 1) OP clearly isn’t concerned that this is the case, as they opt out regularly by making a joke and moving on, and 2) this is an outside-of-work, voluntary group. The consequences aren’t as great (and thus the freedom to work in certain ways is greater).

            1. AGirlCalledFriday*

              Oh, I see where you are noting that she’s opting out. I’m not reading that she’s opting out though – they are asking her to give a word to describe her feelings, and she says she hasn’t had her coffee yet. That’s still stating her frame of mind and participating, albeit not enthusiastically.

              Although this may not be a work event, it may still be a group that is important to the OP. It does advocacy work within her industry and she may be able to use it as a springboard for better work opportunities down the line.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The issue is that it’s a huge waste of time (for volunteers on a Saturday in an already very long meeting!), it’s somewhat invasive, and even though the OP can pass each time, doing so is making her look like the person who’s out of sync with an exercise that everyone else is participating in.

              But mainly it’s inefficient and an inconsiderate waste of people’s time when that’s not what they signed up for. If everyone else there loves it, I’d say OP is the one who’s out of sync and she can decide what to do about that, but I’m betting others hate it.

              1. AGirlCalledFriday*

                I’m also coming at this with the perspective of working internationally with people who were a lot more blunt and open. It was common for people to ask about my feelings and to note personal issues I was having. The problem was that for me, it was a LOT harder to be professional. Knowing I was lonely and unmarried, the founder of my school offered to arrange marriages for me…several times. Knowing that my immediate supervisor was dismissive and sexist, one word from the founder about it on the wrong day would crack my facade and I’d begin sobbing. Maybe she was completely fine with my emotions, but that doesn’t mean anyone else around was. My emotions and private life are mine to handle, and it feels invasive to have them poked at and examined by others, especially on days when I’m fighting to be composed and professional. I would say that this was entirely my own experience…but no, it was the same experience of many people. In some cases a person was led into feeling ‘safe’ and then exposed too much and alienated others.

                Which brings me to my next point. While I want to be respectful and considerate of someone’s feelings, I don’t want someone going through a rough patch breaking down during a meeting. It’s uncomfortable. As this committee is related to the OP’s industry, it’s not hard to imagine that things said could get around to others she might work with or be working with in the future.

          2. AGirlCalledFriday*

            I’m also not reading the ‘pass’ as though they were all in the meeting and she jokingly declined to share her feelings in the regular fashion. The way the OP describes it, was that over and above the normal procedure they were speaking of a member leaving because she was feeling over-extended. The co-chair used this as an opportunity to set up more frequent ‘check-ins’ individually rather than just in the meetings. When asked how best to contact the OP, the OP said, “By email”, and when asked what she was thinking said, “I don’t think it’s necessary to check up on me.” This is a different scenario wholly apart from sharing personal and private information and emotions, and doesn’t show that this portion of the meeting objected to is voluntary.

        2. Amber Rose*

          So let’s reverse it: imagine you’re stuck in a room where everyone else is stripping down. Now imagine you have issues with nudity.

          It’s awkward and uncomfortable and maybe even triggering and awful to be exposed to other people’s issues, especially against your will. It’s why people school for years to be able to do it as a profession. These meetings are being forced on people.

          1. Amtelope*


            I’m horrified by the idea of being asked these questions myself, but also not thrilled by the idea of listening to other people (who I don’t know except in a professional context) answering them. Being part of a volunteer organization with people doesn’t mean I’m volunteering to be their therapist, support group member, or even friend. It means I’m there to work, and I would like everybody else to be working, too, not getting emotional support.

            1. Amber Rose*

              Yep. I don’t want to be a source of emotional support. Because I’m awful at it. I don’t know how to comfort people and I’m not ok with giving advice except in very special circumstances to people I am very close with.

              It’s cool if there is a source of emotional support at work for people as long as it isn’t me.

      2. Christian Troy*

        But you’re totally missing the point. To me, based on my experiences in emergency response and in public health (and overlapping social work type of organizations), this is not uncommon and people like it. The check ins are supposed to create a safe space for people to talk about a tough case, tough experience or if they’re dealing with personal issues that would make it difficult for them to handle something. My friend works at a cancer org and she LOVES all the retreats, team bonding and feels like like because everyone is talking openly about emotions it creates a great environment. It probably wouldn’t be necessary at an accounting firm because accountants aren’t dealing with chronically ill people on a daily basis.

        I completely 100% why and how it sounds weird and uncomfortable. I don’t enjoy it either, but I understand the purpose behind it. Maybe there will be a day when I deal with a really hard situation and find it useful, maybe I won’t.

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          I’ve spent a fair number of years teaching – definitely a field where people need to feel like they can safely discuss issues. I think that the disconnect here is that while it’s definitely necessary to be able to talk about the way a certain case impacts others, that’s completely different from sharing personal and private information about people themselves.

          While working with children, it’s also important that there be an environment where they can feel emotionally safe and validated. During times of crisis – for example, a sub teacher came in for a period and was hitting the children – the students were very upset and needed to talk about their experience before we could even begin to move on. If I had said, “Tell me what you thought of the experience and how you felt about it” and went around the room, the kids clam up. No one wants to feel forced to share. If I open the floor, kids will share what is comfortable on their own, which tends to lead to a healthier and more collaborative environment because it is completely voluntary. Even students who tend to be more private will often share after a period of time. There is no reason to assume that adults in a setting would react any differently.

        2. jag*

          “But you’re totally missing the point. To me, based on my experiences in emergency response and in public health (and overlapping social work type of organizations), this is not uncommon and people like it. ”

          Yes. I personally don’t like it, but I work in an organization where it is pretty well done and we are not forced to share. A fair number of people like it, and I think it improves performance overall. Some of us (me included) don’t like it – but it’s work and there is often stuff we don’t like. And we’re not forced to share if we don’t want to.

          And in terms of being annoyed at hearing about other people’s problems? Heck, they’ve got the problems – my hearing it is nowhere nearly as bad.

        3. fposte*

          I think it makes a lot of sense in those situations, and it’s been interesting for me to hear about those.

          I think that’s different from what the OP has described and elaborated on, where they’re being asked to talk about anything–stuff in the news, stuff they saw on their way to the meeting–that they find emotionally troubling. That’s not mission-relevant, and therefore I don’t think it should be going on in such a meeting.

        4. Lindsay J*

          But OP says that this is a community arts program, not a situation where they’re dealing with emotionally heavy issues.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      If there’s burnout, then you discuss it in that context – priorities, duties, projects, pay, promotions, etc. Expecting me to care about your abusive childhood or rocky marriage is inappropriate and unprofessional.

      Here’s a hint: if you need to say this is a safe place, then you’re doing it wrong.

      1. Christian Troy*

        What other projects do you want volunteer emergency responders to work on? Do you think people ‘volunteers’ for Doctors Without Borders are doing it because of the great benefits?

        1. Amtelope*

          Shouldn’t they be working on the work? Because they think the work is important and worth doing? And getting therapy on their own time, not on the organization’s (or other volunteers’.)

          1. Christian Troy*

            This is getting really off topic and probably not much benefit to the readers and the OP, but your understanding how people are “supposed to respond” after being deployed in the field as a first responder during a hurricane or medical volunteer in a developing country or working with abused kids or rape victims seems very very limited. People aren’t robots; despite the best training and preparation, there are still complex and unforeseen situations that affect you in negative ways emotionally and mentally. The check ins are supposed to help bring these issues to light so the next appropriate steps can be taken, whatever they may be. Many people are not good at realizing they have a problem and probably wouldn’t know to go get therapy on their own time.

            Like I said, I get why people think it’s weird in other contexts.

            1. Amtelope*

              I mean, if your organization’s mission includes providing therapy for people, and the people doing the check-ins are trained to do that, that’s one thing. I’m still not sure that “let’s all go around in a circle and talk about our feelings” is an appropriate way to identify people who need mental health care — I would think that private interviews with mental health professionals would be far more appropriate and useful — but I will bow to your professional expertise if this is your field.

              But for a random volunteer organization where people are there to do non-therapy work? People should work on work. They should not be taking up anyone else’s time or emotional energy with their feelings. I’m sorry, but it’s inappropriate and out of line to ask or encourage them to do so.

        2. Snarkus Aurelius*

          Here’s the thing about that.  The OP wrote a very clear, well-written, carefully drafted letter.  If there were extenuating circumstances — such as working with trauma or sexual assault or first response — she would have stated as much.  That’s such an obvious exception.

          I could be wrong though.  OP?  Anyone?  Bueller?

          Even if that were the case, you have to know your audience and context before you talk about such deeply personal subjects.  A budget meeting or a vendor presentation or an IT demo is not the place — no matter how heroic your work is.  It’s just not.

          The letter leads me to believe this is professional network, and the meetings are to talk about specifics of the field and projects.  To make it about anything else, touchy feely or not, misleads people and wastes time.  I would be saying the same thing if the co-chair wanted to discuss the price of eggs in China.  Do.  Not.  Care.

          1. OP*

            No yeah, you’re exactly right. I mentioned elsewhere in comments that the committee organizes events and resources for young people in the arts. We are, ourselves, all young people in the arts. It’s not emotionally difficult work. It’s not far removed from what I do on a daily basis, which does not require this kind of transparency.

    3. Melissa*

      I was kind of surprised by the comments too; although I can understand why a lot of people wouldn’t like this, it’s relatively common in some fields and amongst some groups. As I mentioned in a below comment, when I proposed to my resident assistants cutting check-ins short to cut meeting times (we were meeting for an hour) they protested and said they would rather meet for an hour and keep the check-ins than meet for 30-45 minutes without them.

    4. Amtelope*

      I can’t imagine a context where I’d find this appropriate as a volunteer. My private life outside work and my personal feelings aren’t open for questioning in a professional context. If this is a norm of some volunteer groups, I would hope they understand that they’re limiting membership to people who can tolerate this kind of intrusive questioning.

      1. Lindsay J*

        I can see the appropriateness in some situations – say you work on a sexual assault hotline or something where you are dealing with emotionally draining/damaging encounters on a daily/hourly basis – I can see the utility of ensuring that the people charged with providing support to people in bad situations have support themselves, for both the health of the volunteers and the population they are serving.

        But even in that case it should be limited to situations that occur during the course of the volunteering, and voluntary sharing (or the ability to just quickly say “nope, nothing to share today” without prodding).

    5. Tinker*

      So, I gotta say — the notion of a place where disclosing that you don’t like check-ins and talking about your feelings can get you singled out as “not being a team player” is nicely on its way to approaching my personal definition of “NOT a safe space, AT ALL”. Which leads me to wonder what is the actual purpose of this behavior, really.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Makes me wonder if they could vote on the question of whether they feel the exercise helps or hinders the group. If most people feel it hinders the group, why keep doing it?

  29. NavyLT*

    “I feel like this exercise is completely irrelevant… and that three hours is too long for a meeting.”

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I’m so happy that the weekly staff meeting at New Job is only an hour long, and that’s usually a stretch. Weekly staff meeting at Old Awful Job was routinely 1 1/2 to 2 hours, sometimes more. It was ridiculous.

        I don’t usually hold meetings with my team. Just one-offs as needed. I figure most of what we need to deal with is taken care of in the weekly staff meeting with the department head.

  30. Bend & Snap*

    I cannot describe how much I would hate this.

    Honestly, when people pull this stuff, I wonder who they think they are. If they’re not my mother, SO or therapist, it’s COMPLETELY out of line. You’re not in some position of power that equips you to guide my mental health and take action on my feelings.

    BLAHHHHHH. Hate.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Because it’s not enough for you to fill out the expense report form in the new format. You need to tell us how you feel about it too even if it’s a fleeting moment of frustration.

      Seriously, I know someone like this.

    2. Lindsay J*

      Heck, even if you are my mother or my SO, in a lot of cases I would still find it out of line.

  31. Malissa*

    My first thought is I would start sowing up 15-30 minutes late in hopes of missing most of the check-in stuff. I’d show up with a cup of coffee in my hand and say how packed the coffee place was.
    But that might not be the best route. I like the idea of approaching the leader and having a set time for the check-in and a set time for the meeting to start. This gives those who want to participate a chance to come in and share. The rest can come in later for the actual meeting.

  32. Cari*

    Oh OP, it sounds like your boss has her heart in the right place, but her way of going about it sounds a touch over the top and unsustainable in the long term.

    It also sounds like these “safe space” style meetings aren’t actually beneficial to folks who actually have issues (either medical or life issues outside of work), because while it is a good thing if you have an employer that is understanding of things you have going on, knowing they will work with you to make sure things don’t get messed up work-wise… I can’t imagine many would want to share all that publicly with their colleagues too…

    Do you think your boss may be open to you having a private chat with her and laying out your concerns? From what you’ve written, it sounds like she may be understanding if you were to tell her how uncomfortable this makes you feel.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I don’t think forced sharing means someone’s hard is in the right place. It means they’re controlling and nosy.

      1. Melissa*

        Eh, not necessarily. She might have gotten a touchy-feely type of management training that encourages this kind of thing, or she might be from the group that believes that not sharing feelings publicly = holding feelings in and that that’s unhealthy for you. Some people genuinely don’t understand why other people don’t like sharing their innermost thoughts with others.

  33. Melissa*

    When I worked in residential life supervising resident assistants, we used to do these check-ins in the beginning of every meeting, too – and they probably took up about 15 minutes of a 60-minute meeting. However…I was supervising 19-21-year-olds, and they actually really liked the check-ins, and protested against cutting them to try to make meetings shorter. They actually really looked forward to it – they told me it was a decompress time for them each week. (I also did brief check-ins with them in our one-on-one meetings).

    But, that was a big part of working in residential life – checking in, checking out, making sure people were doing okay – and younger workers, who might have appreciated it more and perhaps needed it more, navigating their first job in which they were truly accountable to someone else. Honestly, if I were going to a regular meeting these days in my current job, I think I’d feel a little awkward doing a mental health check-in with my boss. I wouldn’t really want her knowing what was going on with me personally at home, and honestly I tend to be pretty private about my personal life at work while giving the illusion of openness.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I volunteer with teenagers, and if we don’t take 15 – 20 minutes every time, they will never, ever focus on anything else. They NEEED to share where they are in their life that day.

      1. katamia*

        Yeah, I had a teacher in high school who did something similar at the beginning of every class, except that it wasn’t mandatory and we were all kind of overshare-y teenagers anyway. Some people would say something almost every day about their lives or politics (we were a politically-minded bunch) or the news or whatever, while others wouldn’t say anything and just did homework or fiddled with stuff or whatever. I remember liking it then, but it wasn’t a requirement to share, just an opportunity for people who wanted to, which is different (and better) than what’s going on with the OP.

    2. Anx*

      Yes, it’s much more appropriate in that environment.

      To me, it’s not so much the subject matter of what you’re dealing with at your job, but the expectations of the role and nature of the job.

      Resident assistants’ personal and professional lives have very few boundaries as it is, and you go through many of the same issues of the people that you’re serving. You have limited experience, no official credentials, and limited training to carry out your work, and I think it’s totally normal to be able to talk about your challenges with this without worrying about feeling incompetent or bothersome.

      I really appreciated a lot of these more touchy-feely conversations at the time. I work in student services now and would not want to do this at my current job. I don’t think it’s the age difference so much as the fact that my job is much less immersive and I don’t live where I work, my campus closes at night, etc.

  34. nep*

    Another spot-on response by Alison, in my view. Granted — everyone’s different and to each his own. Some might like this.
    But the first couple words of Alison’s response captured precisely what I was thinking as I read the original letter — Ooooh. Ick.
    I agree the letter writer does not have to be apologetic that this doesn’t work — or about being cold or ‘shut down’. The workplace is for professional exchanges and for getting work done — not a place for touchy-feely get-in-touch-with-our-emotions stuff — particularly *imposed*. Ick.

  35. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    I work in a pretty damn touchy-feely profession, and this would cross lots of boundaries for me. Yuck!

    I’m part of a (spread all over the country) professional group that meets monthly, and we do start with a round-robin to hear everyone’s voice, but it’s generally framed as a “give us one quick thing about what’s going on in your corner of the world?” – to which most people respond with a one-sentence weather report. Sounds pointless, but it’s actually pretty interesting to hear my warm sunny day contrasted with other people’s 4 feet of snow – kind of gives you a picture of each person and a way to acknowledge who is on the call. Better yet, it’s not remotely intrusive – BUT it gives everyone the chance to say “my wife just had a baby” or “I’m actually calling in today from India” or “I just changed jobs” if they want to share that kind of thing. And the whole thing NEVER takes more than 5 minutes – and that’s for 15 people. Acknowledge the humans without intruding into their personal lives or wasting their time.

  36. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    I do want to say, aside from the other discussions, I don’t think the co-chair was out of line in deciding that, once one person decided to drop due to being over-scheduled, she should check in individually to see if there were people who were feeling the same way but not voicing it for whatever reason. She wants to keep people on the committee, and she apparently had no idea there might be a problem with the time commitment until someone was dropping (the equivalent of not knowing the problems your employee is facing until they’re quitting over them). So I’m a bit surprised that OP reacted the way they did to someone asking them what their communications preferences are, and it sounded like the co-chair responded in exactly the way OP wanted, so I’m really not sure what the problem was there?

    I agree that talking with the co-chair forthrightly is the best way to go, because she’s operating on one set of facts until someone tells her something that changes that set of facts. She doesn’t know that OP feels the way they feel, or whether others might, until someone brings it up.

    1. OP*

      Hi again! I swear I’m not coming down here to argue with you. I just wanted to add that her explicit request was to find out everyone’s preferred method of contact so she can get in touch weekly to ask what’s going on in our lives. Her words were, “We can talk about committee projects, what you’re doing at work, what fun things you’re doing with your weekend…”

      I have no problem with voicing my preferred method of contact, or telling the co-chair I have no time this week to work on something because of x, y, and z, or staying in touch about projects, but trying to move check-ins is wildly unnecessary. A simple, “Let me know if you find yourself overwhelmed by the workload,” would have been fine.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, this is somebody who really wants to feel like she’s somebody’s support and confidante. And I get the impulse, but that’s not the appropriate method, and she’s ending up using the notion of support to prioritizing her own emotional needs.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          This. She is asking you to meet her needs by framing them as your needs.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      My guess is that the person who left did so because of this nonsense. Over-scheduled is a great excuse because it removes any fault on the part of the co-chair and the committee.

      “It’s not you. It’s me!”

      I only say that because that sounds like something I’d do.

  37. LBK*

    Barf. The manager seems to have confused a safe space with a therapist’s office – safe space means should I so choose, I can talk about my personal/mental health issues without fear of judgment or repercussion. It does not mean forcibly trying to draw those issues out of me.

    1. Myrin*

      That’s my issue, especially with how some other commenters as well as the women in the question use the expression “safe space”. It seems a bit like the OP’s coworker is excited about the concept of a work environment being a safe space without necessarily understanding what that means. (I mean, being open about personal issues doesn’t in any way create a safe space, which is what the coworker seems to think. A general safe space can encourage people to open up because they don’t have to fear repercussions but the other way around just doesn’t make any sense.)

    2. Lindsay J*

      This. And I’ll take it further that it should still within the appropriate bounds for that environment.

      A safe-space in the workplace might mean that they try hard to be a safe environment for queer and trans* employees (among other groups) in that they do concrete things like make it easy for someone to go by a name other than their birth name, don’t have gendered dresscode requirements, provide benefits to same-sex partners, and take a zero tolerance stance towards discrimination/rudeness/hazing/etc, but it doesn’t mean that coworkers have to hear or care about things more appropriate for your therapist.

  38. Chickaletta*

    Ugh, awkward. Did the co-chair ever consider how she would handle it if somebody shared a really serious issue? Is she ready to put the meeting on hold in order to deal with someone’s mental health emergency? Is she equipped to handle that type of situation? I’m no expert in this field, but I’d think that she’s not taking “feelings” as seriously as she thinks if she thinks that forcing everyone to talk about them openly is a good idea.

  39. Dr. Doll*

    It is, on the other hand, annoying when men and scientists say, “I don’t know what you mean” when asked to articulate a feeling, especially in a conflict resolution situation. Scientists in particular seem to take pride in not understanding feelings; it’s the Spock Fallacy.

    1. Amtelope*

      Sure, but I would take this to mean “I don’t want to talk about my feelings,” which is an awkward thing to have to say but often true. If someone says “Wakeen isn’t getting me the reports I need,” and you’re trying to mediate that conflict, I’m not sure why you need that person to articulate “I am angry at Wakeen” (or whatever it is they’re feeling) — they’ve already told you what they need, and the discussion should be about the reports. If the conflict is inherently feelings-related — “I feel like Wakeen doesn’t like me” — that’s different, but most work conflicts don’t require feelingstalk to solve.

      1. Dr. Doll*

        In academia, relationships are far longer than most marriages and conflicts are about far more personal things than reports not getting in on time.

        When someone says, “I don’t understand what you mean, How do I feel,” what they are really saying is, “I don’t want to ADMIT that I have feelings about this.”

        It’s a way of dismissing someone else who has feelings about an issue, and putting their viewpoint down because it’s not “logical” or “data driven.” Saying “I don’t want to talk about my feelings” has the virtue of being honest and not putting other people down for their “irrationality.”

        –Minor point, “I feel like…” does not describe a feeling. “I’m angry that Wakeen doesn’t like me. I’m sad that Wakeen doesn’t like me. I’m thrilled that Wakeen doesn’t like me. I’m indifferent that Wakeen doesn’t like me.” Those are feelings.

        1. fposte*

          Unless they say “like all those other emotional people,” I don’t agree that what they say about their own feelings is dismissing somebody else. That’s running into the fallacy that everybody has to deal with emotions the same.

          But I also don’t understand why these academics are expected to be talking about their feelings in the first place.

          1. Dr. Doll*

            You don’t have to SAY “like all those other emotional people” in order to be thinking it and using it as an excuse not to listen to others.

            When you’re talking about things like faculty evaluation, especially student and peer input to faculty evaluation, feelings are critically important. Also things like whose course gets taught and whose doesn’t, who gets another tenure line and doesn’t…. I could go on for several pages here. It would be NICE if we could all rely solely on data and make completely cool, rational decisions based on a completely unemotional analysis of what will get the institution the optimal balance of costs and benefits.

            But in practice, people FEEL extreme loyalty to their discipline and department, and they FEEL extremely attached to their smartness and competence. That’s how data gets read in as many different ways as there are people in the room….especially when benefits are intangible and costs are dollars.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, but they’re allowed to feel it, just like you’re allowed to feel that they’re dismissive. That doesn’t mean their statement is destructive or problematic. I don’t think it’s requisite for a response to somebody’s feelings to be about feelings in those situations–in fact, I think it’s often counterproductive.

              And I still don’t get why people are getting required to tell people how they feel in the workplace in the first place.

            2. Tinker*

              Aren’t you kind of doing the same thing, though, here? Of using excuses not to listen to others?

              I mean, breaking this out here, you’re taking an “I don’t understand” and asserting that the person — who is reporting on their own internal experience, however imperfectly — actually means something different from the words that they said. Which, okay. What they’re saying REALLY — per you — is that they do not want to admit to having feelings that they — per you — definitely have. And even that doesn’t get respected, it seems — in fact, they’re in the wrong for not wanting to admit to the emotional experience that you’re telling them that they’re having.

              Not that I don’t recognize the existence of a pattern of dismissal-by-emotionality, but I don’t see how a conversation where the participants aren’t seen as the source of ground truth for their own experiences and boundaries can avoid disappearing up its own ass.

              1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

                JFC exactly. I cannot stand when I say X and someone responds with “no, you really feel Y and are lying about X.” There is no way to get out of that conversation.

              2. Lindsay J*

                I don’t have feelings a lot of the time. I don’t know whether it’s a function of being depressed, or some type of thing that indicates that I’m neuroatypical in some way, or if there are people who are just like this. Yes there are times when I am happy, and times when I’m sad, and times when I’m anxious. But a lot of the time I just “am”. I’m blank. There’s nothing. And I hate it when people insist that I must be feeling *something* or thinking about something. I’m just …not.

        2. Amtelope*

          Sure, but “I think Wakeen doesn’t like me” is still a problem that is going to be hard to discuss without any mention of people’s feelings. (It’s also something that probably should not have been said, but sometimes people dump these things on you anyway.)

          I think the more people can talk about other people’s actual behaviors and the effect of those behaviors on their work, rather than about anyone’s feelings, the easier it’s going to be to find concrete ways of resolving the problem. If people are having personal marriage-like conflicts in the workplace, I would be trying to redirect them firmly onto work. Can’t have personal conversations without fighting about feelings? Stop having personal conversations and do your work.

          And I’m not sure what you hope to get out of asking people how they feel, rather than asking them what they need to do their work. How will knowing the answer to “how do you feel?” help you solve the problem that’s interfering with work getting done?

          1. Dr. Doll*

            For most people, thinking that Wakeen does not like them IS going to have an effect on their work, no matter how professional they actually are. For example, if there is a way to avoid Wakeen without completing messing up the work, they might do that even if not avoiding him would be better.

            In situations where the outcome of work is completely tangible and feedback is instant (emergency rooms, programming, etc.), that may be less of a problem because Doll and Wakeen have *actions* that can be taken irrespective of feelings. My work world does not operate like that at all; in mine, you have to muster up the intrinsic motivation to power through without the checklist, and feelings are like either glue or springs on your feet.

            Believe me, I am NOT saying to splash one’s feelings all over the place — there’s a vaaaast middle ground that recognizing and dealing with the fact that I, you, and everyone HAS feelings occupies between bursting into tears or putting off calling someone for weeks because of simmering issues that have their basis in emotions, and pretending that nobody feels anything, ever.

            1. Amtelope*

              But Wakeen doesn’t have to like you. You still have to work together, and you have to be polite and cooperate. But I would have extremely little sympathy for someone who said “I can’t work with Wakeen because I think he doesn’t like me.” Tough cookies. Do your job.

              1. Dr. Doll*

                Being polite and cooperative gets you the minimum acceptable performance level. Are you satisfied with that in your group? I’m not.

                1. Amtelope*

                  If they’re being polite and cooperative, why aren’t they being productive at a high level? It can’t be just because they don’t like each other. Plenty of people do good work while hating each other’s guts. I’d address the actions leading to performance that isn’t at a high level, not try to mandate friendly feelings.

      2. Tinker*

        Yeah, and I’d throw in there — I’m not completely non-touchy-feely in all situations, but I have the sort of personal history that includes experiences where if I have both a concrete issue and am angry, and I bring up the concrete issue and then disclose that I’m angry, that the discussion then becomes about my emotionality and possibly the wrongness thereof (historically with bonus rampant misogyny and ableism, both arguably incorrectly applied) and the addressing of the concrete issue sinks without trace. And I have feelings about THAT, also. Ones that I’m not necessarily into fully unpacking at work.

    2. Chickaletta*

      What they mean is, “I don’t know what my feelings have to do with this”. Work is work.

      I tell you what, I’m a graphic designer and part of my job on a daily basis is to take criticism. If I let myself become emotional about my work I would be a hot mess. It’s beneficial in my line of work to remove myself emotionally from it, in fact many employers do not want a graphic designer who’s going to take their work personally or let their feelings take control, and I suspect there are many careers out there where it’s the same.

      1. Amtelope*

        Yes. The absolute last thing that my clients want to know is how I really feel about their feedback on my work. It is my job to react to client behavior that ranges from harshly criticizing our work to yelling at us about problems that we didn’t cause and can’t fix with calm competence, not honest discussion of my feelings.

        1. Dr. Doll*

          We’re really talking about a completely different situation here. I am talking about a situation in which a group is trying to reach a decision in which stakes are high and emotions *are indeed involved* whether they should be or not.

          You’re absolutely right that in an analogous situation, say someone getting a harsh peer review back on an article submission, that removing oneself emotionally is very beneficial. That takes practice — and thinking that you shouldn’t HAVE emotions about it actually doesn’t help.

          I suspect that when you react perfectly calmly to a client telling you that your work is garbage, your company is crap, they never should have hired you, and you are all losers who deserve to go bankrupt on the way to hell, your significant other hears the story later.

          1. Amtelope*

            Sure. What has that got to do with what people do in the workplace? And what has any of this got to do with thinking people shouldn’t have emotions? Of course people have emotions. But they don’t necessarily need to be shared at work. A lot of the time, what allows people to do a good job at work is not letting other people know exactly how they feel.

            And I’m not sure that you should assume someone who says “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘how do I feel?'” is concealing some strong emotion. Maybe they mean this isn’t an emotional issue for them. That’s probably best taken at face value.

    3. Dr. Doll*

      I should have stated my claim more clearly up front. People HAVE emotions. Pretending that we don’t have them is much less helpful than acknowledging them and dealing with them appropriately. It is extremely tiresome when people feel and act superior to others based on a logical vs emotional approach to a question, especially when there is reason to believe that the logical people are actually a simmering mass of insecurity and/or arrogance.

      1. fposte*

        If that was your end goal, I’m totally with you on the falseness of the logic vs. emotion hierarchy (I actually experience it being wielded more in private life than at work, but I know it can happen there too). I just don’t think that’s the same thing as it being a problem for somebody to say they don’t have a feeling in response.

        1. Dr. Doll*

          If they really don’t have a feeling about something, I do get that! I’m not interested in forcing people to acknowledge feelings that they truly don’t have, of course.

          I just want to make sure that that’s actually the case.

    4. College Career Counselor*

      I was once asked by a colleague to “put the love into” the wrapping-up portion of a group presentation several of us had been tasked with doing for the division.

      I had to tell her that I honestly had no idea what she meant and that she was more than welcome to add any “love” that she wished, but that I would be talking about X, Y, and Z.

      1. Dr. Doll*

        Chuckle. I might have asked for clarification instead and possibly decided that I COULD do what she wanted once I understood.

    5. Dr. Doll*

      Annnnd finally, let me say that I am *feeling* tired and slow now.

      Logically, I am behind on the work I planned for today.

      So, I must excuse myself from this thread! ;-) Any of you can come work for me any time, it would be a nice change from the touchy touchy egos I normally handle.

  40. lc*

    I could have written this letter. Are you part of my group?? I especially hate the “one word” closing (energized! productive!).

    I think regional differences may play a role. Are you in California? I’m an East Coast native living in the Bay Area, and this type of meeting facilitation is the norm here (at least in my field). It’s like a given that meetings will start and end by checking in about feelings. While I perceive it as a boundary-crossing waste of time, many people here seem to assume these types of rituals are a best practice to build trust and connection within a working group.

    1. stellanor*

      I dunno, I’m a west coast native and that kind of thing makes me want to run screaming from the room.

      If my boss asks how I’m doing my response is either “good” or along the lines of “The vanilla teapots go out tomorrow and I still have no idea why the lids don’t fit, we may be in trouble.”

  41. Jill*

    Ugh. But what if it IS your boss? Mine is big on this kind of thing because she thinks it helps “build trust.” But we don’t HAVE trust issues in my office! No cliques, no ladder climbers, no phonies. So it’s so unnecessary. It’s not so bad when the question is trivial, like “what was your firs rock concert?” but sometimes my boss has asked questions about hot button political issues and it gets awkward fast!

    OP – if talking to her doesn’t work, is there a way that you can jump to answer first – and then make your answer tied to the topic, or the project, or the industry? Hopefully then everyone else will follow suit and keep their answers related to the group work. Maybe if you do that enough times, she’ll drop it once she realizes no one is going to share personal stuff?

    1. Lindsay J*

      And if there were trust issues, there is no way in hell that I’m going to share personal experiences or my feelings or anything even remotely intimate with that group.

  42. Vicki*

    A lovely quote from Judith Martin (Miss Manners) that I clipped many years ago. t was about employee retreats, but it fits here as well:

    “The sweetly misguided notion that no problems exist among different people except communication problems, and that we would all love one another if only we knew one another better, does seem to Miss Manners to have been exposed with time.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think it was in the 80s or so- the big go-to was “lack of communication”. That was the cure-all response for any problem in business or the work place.

      We drifted away from that, mercifully. It’s not a magic wand. People are a little more complex and really do not fit into a one size fits all answer.

  43. Vicki*

    Also, … a three-hour meeting once a month? On Saturday? Three. Hours?

    What are you talking about for three hours???

  44. OP (Again)*

    I feel like I should clarify, since some people are appalled about three hour meetings on Saturdays — I am the only person on this committee with a 9-5 M-F office job. I’m an arts administrator, and nearly every other member of the group is an artist who also works one or two part-time jobs. I don’t think the co-chair herself is an artist but she does shift work so her schedule is not set like mine. We put it to a vote and settled on Saturday mornings — it jives with my work schedule, and most folks bartending/waiting tables/etc aren’t needed until later. It’s not my favourite thing to do with my Saturday, but I did agree to it. I do feel like the meetings could be shorter, but that’s not the hill I really want to die on here.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Three hour meetings EVERY Saturday?

      I am wondering if this is a problem of too many meetings. Is anything accomplished by all this meeting time?

  45. AcademiaNut*

    One thing that jumped out at me – the OP says that they are a co-chair of the meeting. That, to me, implies that they have more responsibility towards the situation than if they were simply attending the meeting. If the OP hates the setup so intensely, there are probably other members who agree, but may feel they can’t speak up if both the organizers are going along with it.

    So I’d be a bit more active in pushing back. Instead of making up something for sharing time, say that you don’t have anything to share. If everyone except the co-chair hates sharing time, it will quickly die, but if people enjoy it, they can continue to participate. The other thing I’d push back on is making making the personal check ins opt in, rather than opt out. “If you want to check in more regularly, let me know the best way to contact you” is much more appropriate than telling people you will be checking in to chat about their personal lives and just need to know if you prefer phone or email, even if she’s willing to back off when pressed.

    This discussion reminds me of a few youth leaders I encountered as a teen who wanted you to share feelings/tell your problems, and assumed that if you said you were fine, you were obviously in denial and needed an intervention. In one case, it eventually turned out that his personal life was so dysfunctional that he honestly believed that everyone else had to be covering up massive problem.

    1. Claire (Scotland)*

      I don’t see the OP saying they themselves are a co-chair – just that the person doing this is.

  46. HRG*

    I’m confused about this. Like, why is this even a thing? I can’t imagine any professional setting where this is normal or appropriate.

    Primarily, I’d have a tough time dealing with the fact that this is a huge time waster (in my opinion) and would want to either spend that time working on the actual work, or just shaving that off the meeting altogether so I could have more time back in my Saturday.

  47. Edacious*

    Was she a nurse in a past lifetime? Or is she a nurse still? If it happens again just say you would like to pass on this one.

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