interviewer asked what my favorite fruit is, coworkers keep talking behind closed doors, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Interviewer asked what my favorite fruit is

I was asked on an interview, “What is your favorite fruit?” What is this question supposed to tell the interviewer about you?

It tells them nothing about you but it tells you loads about them: that they’re a bad interviewer who doesn’t know how to hire.

2. Interviewer said the job’s salary is $20,000 less than I’d earlier said I was looking for

I applied for a job at an organization I’d be very excited to work for. In the form application, I had to indicate my preferred salary – annoying at that stage, yes, but I had to enter a value into the field. I put my current salary. I was thrilled the next day to be invited for an interview. The interview went great – I was told I’d move on to the second round within 20 minutes – except for one thing. In rattling off information about the job, the hiring manager said, “The salary is $X,” a figure nearly $20K less than what I’m currently making and what I put in my form application. I finished out the interview without asking any follow-up questions about the salary.

My guess is that this hiring manger never saw the salary I’d indicated in my application. Wouldn’t HR screen out candidates whose market rates are that far off from what’s budgeted?

My question is what to do next. I see my options as A) go to the second interview, do everything I can to become their top candidate, and then try to negotiate from there, or B) raise the issue proactively in an email. Let her know I am so excited about the position but that I was surprised to have been brought in when there’s such a big delta in my salary requirement and what’s budgeted and ask if the figure she cited is hard and fast.

I would be open to taking a small pay cut (maybe $5K) because this is an organization I really want to work for, but $20K would be a deal breaker.

Yeah, they shouldn’t necessarily have screened you out over it (because some people don’t actually hold firm to the salary requirements they list), but they should have raised it with you before moving forward.

Ideally, you would have responded in the moment when the interviewer named the lower figure and said something like, “Is there any flexibility on that number? That’s nearly $20K less than what I’m currently making; I’m not sure if you saw the salary requirement portion of my application.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t raise it the next time you talk (presumably in this second interview). I’d do it then, though, because you don’t want to go through their whole process without raising it, and by the time they make you an offer, they may be annoyed that you didn’t speak up earlier if the range they told you was a deal-breaker. Don’t go with the “try to wow them and then negotiate once they make an offer” because they’re likely to be annoyed that you knew along that their range was too low for you and let them invest time in you anyway. (And yes, you can say the same of them; they shouldn’t have wasted your time at that first interview without addressing salary before having you come in.)

3. What the hell is a “learning lesson”?

About a year ago I switched from a support role in academia to one in a corporate environment. This was a huge cultural change, but there are many things that catch my attention and underscore the differences in these environments. Language and grammar is a big one.

The academic institution I worked for is large and prestigious; lots of smart people who work in science and get tricky grammar correct every time. Think: is “data” plural or singular? Answer: plural. Consequently, I notice when people are incorrect in their choice of phrase, grammar, or language. It is like a little bell going off in the back of my head.

I’ve noticed that the corporate environment is much more lax about these things. Which isn’t a huge problem, I do try to let a lot go…I’m not perfect myself. However, I have noticed that there is one specific thing that does bother me though, is the phrase “learning lesson,” which I hear a lot. It is used to describe a variety of “take aways,” lessons, or learning opportunities. I find “learning lesson” particularly galling and frankly I think it makes the speaker sound ignorant. My recently hired direct report has been using this phrase, though I have also heard it in several cases from people much higher in the organization. Am I missing something? Is this new business speak? Is there a way I can gently correct this, at least with my direct report?

I don’t think I’ve ever heard “learning lesson,” and yeah, it would gall me too. Being around a bunch of ridiculous corporate buzzwords is pretty unavoidable in certain fields, but you can ask your direct report to stop paining you with its use. I’d say this: “I know a bunch of people use ‘learning lesson’ here, but it drives me crazy since it’s so redundant. Humor me and use ‘lesson’ or ‘learning opportunity’ instead?”

4. My coworkers keep talking behind closed doors

I work in a satellite office about 20 minutes from headquarters. There are three of us (all young women 30 and under) in this office, one who runs this location and who is the overall leader/boss, another who I work closely with and who is above me slightly but I do not report to her, and then there’s me. I have been here for about three months. The other two like to gossip throughout the day. Frequently they will go into each other’s offices and close the door, or I will hear the one I work closely with talking to another friend/employee at the HQ location and she will close her door to talk to her.

I don’t know why. but this irks me deep down. I am new and still getting acquainted with the culture, and everyone else is extremely close at both offices. I cannot help but think since they’re shutting me out that it is about me or something to do with me. We all share multiple files and I have open access to view the HQ girls files anytime I want, so I do not think it is work-related. None of the girls who frequently chat and call each other within the company are involved in HR, so what could they possibly be talking about that I cannot hear? Am I being too sensitive?

Well, it’s pretty normal to feel excluded by this kind of thing — it can sting to be on the outside of obviously close relationships when there are only three of you — but unless you have reason to think they’re talking about you, I’d assume that they’re not. Lots of people close their doors when talking to avoid disturbing other people, and that’s especially true if it’s work-related. (In fact, if they didn’t close their doors, your letter could easily be about how annoying it is that your coworkers are always socializing in front of you while you’re trying to work!)

You’re new, so it’s normal that there are already established relationships in your office. Give it some time, and you’ll probably develop deeper relationships with them too. (If you like them, that is; if you don’t like them, it’s fine to just focus on your work and stick to being pleasant).

5. A client is ignoring my advice and the final product will be bad

We have a client who is asking for a video. I will be the camera person and video editor for this project. The client has ignored my advice on the video (they’re not scheduling enough time with the subjects, not providing a room with a suitable background, etc.). I’ve repeated my advice and explained why these things are important, but it is really out of my control. So the video is going to look bad, and my boss is going to see it. How do I explain the awkward situation to him without sounding like I’m making excuses?

Explain it now, before things go further: “I’m concerned about the ultimate quality of this video because of X and Y. It’s ultimately their call, but I’m concerned they won’t be happy with the final outcome. How much do we want to push them on this stuff?” (Or you could ask, “Can you give me some advice on how to navigate this?”

Ultimately, the answer is probably to tell the client, “I can do it the way you’re asking, but I want to make sure you understand the trade-offs are A and B so that you’re not surprised by that in the final product! Does that still sound like the way to go, or would you like to do X and Y instead?” But if this is the first time this kind of thing is coming up, get your boss in the loop about your you’re handling it.

 

{ 412 comments… read them below }

  1. NeverForget

    #3: “Learning lesson” is to distinguish it from a punishment lesson, as in, “I’ll teach you a lesson that you won’t forget!” In academia, I imagine lessons are lessons and punishment is punishment; crafting lessons as a form of punishment primarily and learning incidentally isn’t done, maybe?

    1. So Very Anonymous

      But don’t both of those examples involve learning? With punishment, don’t you want the person to learn not to do something?

      1. NeverForget

        I guess maybe there’s a difference in educational philosophy.

        When a kid wrote something on the chalkboard 100 times, was the teacher really trying to get them to remember a useful phrase, or were they simply letting it be known that causing problems for the teacher lead to unpleasant lessons for the student?

        If someone late for work was assigned the most unpleasant job on a site, is it because management thought that the extra practice would improve their skills, or that the extra practice would remind them not to be late in the future?

        I’m not saying I agree with lessons being used that way, but the reason there is a language distinction is to make it clear which way they are being used.

        1. Alpha Teacher

          “When a kid wrote something on the chalkboard 100 times, was the teacher really trying to get them to remember a useful phrase, or were they simply letting it be known that causing problems for the teacher lead to unpleasant lessons for the student?”

          They were teaching a lesson – that there are unpleasant consequences for behaviour that is inappropriate. It’s still a lesson. With a learning outcome.

          Given that, I would have actually assumed the phrase “learning lessons” applied to such occasions. Apparently I would have been wrong. The phrase is redundant and the language distinction makes no sense.

            1. WorkingMom

              Made up words and nonsense phrases drive me absolutely batty. I’m a grammar nerd. I will often correct punctuation or sentence structure when a customer or direct report provides me something to review. They are asking me to review the content, but I can’t turn that part of my brain off and often end up doing a content review and proofreading.

            2. MashaKasha

              I’m annoyed by probably every single corporate buzzword I’ve ever come across. Who comes up with them? Are they doing it on purpose? TBH, the language I’ve seen academics use is not much better. Sure, it’s more florid and a LOT more grammatically correct, but the pretentiousness and the redundancy are still there.

    2. Mando Diao

      I think it means something like an experiential lesson. Either that or it comes from people not really thinking about what the word “lesson” means because they’ve heard it a million times and it rolls off of your tongue automatically.

      OR OR OR it may come from a past or current higher-up whose method of management came in the form of “lessons.” I can’t think of any other reason why grown adults in a professional environment would be speaking in terms of education, which tends to imply a child-adult dynamic as opposed to a conversation between peers, albeit with different degrees of authority.

    3. Sherm

      Yeah, I didn’t think “learning lesson” was that bad. And we are all probably guilty of some tortured English, know what I’m saying? “Red in color.” As opposed to red in number? “In the foreseeable future.” Oh, thanks for clarifying. I thought it was the unforeseeable future. “The end result.” Not the beginning result?

      1. LadyCop

        Red in color…ugh. I hear that nonsense over the radio daily. It’s a bad habit related to having to say “silver in color” or “gold in color” because you can’t make assumptions about material value.
        I’ve worked in enough academic environments to know they can screw up grammar as much as the next person, so I’m annoyed by the OP’s high handed attitude. Never heard of a learning lesson when I worked in corporate situations either. Definitely sounds like someone’s buzz word. I call this The Department of Redundancy Department.

        I have a coworker who asks “Things are good?” a hundred times a day. No. They’re not good. I spent all night dealing with drunks, domestics, and wild goose chases…

        1. Mando Diao

          Your second paragraph raises a fair point. Academia is full of obnoxious buzz-phrases, to say nothing of the variations of “actually,” “basically,” and “particularly” that you’re bombarded with in every graduate seminar.

        2. ginger ale for all

          I hear ‘it just got real’ a lot and I am tempted to ask if everything was only in their imagination before.

        3. The Cosmic Avenger

          Well, if you hear “red in color” over the radio, it could be to distinguish between homonyms, too.

        4. themmases

          Many of the academic words add density. There are words I use all the time in my research that would take between a sentence and a paragraph to unpack. Mando Daio is correct, though, that we tend to be abusers of “actually”, “particularly”, and unnecessarily long phrases such as “the way in which” instead of “how”. I don’t think you’ll find many academics who will disagree that as a group, we are surprisingly bad writers. It’s the jargon, but also the lack of attention to details outside our specific interests.

          My partner works in an area where he picks up both tech and financial jargon. I hate it! To me, those terms are what sound like a pompous attempt to add complexity where there is none. (See e.g. the unnecessary distinction between a learning lesson and some other kind of lesson.) Others, like “ask” instead of “request”, seem like they are just slang that circulates among people who are together a lot. They aren’t really obnoxious but they also don’t add meaning.

          Anyway, language is created and used by people because it works for them. Within working groups, jargon and slang effectively convey some meaning. It might be a technical concept that needs a (not so) pithy name or information about your background and relationship. Only to listeners outside these groups are the terms irritating. My partner doesn’t really need to hear about “adjusted attributable risk” any more than I want to hear about “deliverables”.

          1. Honeybee

            “Ask” is a huge piece of the terminology in my tech firm and I hate it. Why can’t we just say request? or project? Or people will say “he gave me an ask” rather than just “he asked me to do something.”

            1. MashaKasha

              “He gave me an ax”? heh heh

              That’s terrible. I’m kind of glad that my company is, apparently, behind the times. This is the first I’m hearing about “ask” as a noun. Of course I probably just jinxed it, and will soon be exposed to a lot of “asks” in my workplace, just my luck.

          2. MashaKasha

            Re: “the way in which” – my academic favorite has to be “if not for any reason other than”. OMG the word is “because”. BECAUSE, dammit!

            “Only to listeners outside these groups are the terms irritating. ”
            I consider myself an insider in corporate America, but, if all business-speak died a fiery death this weekend, that would make it so much easier for me to come in to work on Monday. I cannot stand that lingo. But tech is fine by me, you’re right.

        5. Honeybee

          Yeah, when OP’s example was that she came from academia and that’s why this annoys her, my eyes got really wide. I spent quite some time in academia. Academics are definitely not immune to bizarre grammar and ridiculous redundancies.

      2. nofelix

        Specifying ‘red in colour’could make sense where you also have colour codes, but really there are tons of different reds and using a number (such as rgb or ral) would be clearer and avoid sounding redundant.

      3. Ad Astra

        “Added bonus” is one I hear a lot, along with “utilize” and “agreeance.” It took me a while to catch on to terms like “deliverables” and “solution” when there’s no clear problem presented, not to mention endless talk of “personal brand.” I was fine with “reach out” the first 300,000 times I heard it, but it’s starting to grate on me. Same with “actionable,” “proactive,” and “ownership.”

        Oh god, and the day I learned that “efficiencies” is a euphemism for “layoffs” was a bad day.

        1. Kelly L.

          I’m still agog at “opportunity” used to mean “mistake.” I knew someone who would write, say, “There were a few opportunities in this paragraph”…meaning typos and grammatical issues.

            1. RedScare

              It’s from motivational consultant flowcharts, where it’s all the rage to show “the 5 steps to doing this normally straightforward task”, based off of things like “Plan-Do-Check-Act”.

          1. Katniss

            I just don’t understand the urge to do this. I’m no prescriptivist but that way of rephrasing it is just useless.

            I had a boss who used “vision” instead of “envision” (as in “let’s vision an idea for this”) and it made me want him to step on Legos forever.

        2. Merry and Bright

          Solutions are everywhere. There are lots of companies with Solutions in their names as well.

        3. Totally Anon

          I once had a newer, younger colleague come to me with an ask… errr, a request to translate an email from another coworker from corporate into English. He really, honest-to-god did not understand what the person was saying! And frankly, it took me a few minutes to decipher it, too, even though I’ve been around that stuff for years.

          I saved the email and spent the next year or so showing it to friends and getting laughs, and then I lost it, which I am still bummed about. It was a pinnacle of corporate-speak. I could not recreate it here if I tried. Oh, and what it meant was “you didn’t follow the proper steps, we’ll let it slide this one time, but next time please follow the process.” How on earth do you say “we’ll let it slide this one time” so that the other person cannot understand wth you mean?

      4. OriginalEmma

        Rate of speed. The person was traveling at a high rate of speed when they collided with the telephone pole.

        SPEED IS A RATE sgnknsklgnlgns

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          Cops using jargon in court testimony is such a pet peeve for me, not really because the cops use but because then courts will repeat it in their opinions. We can just say the person was speeding!

          1. Ad Astra

            And the news repeats it too! It was my biggest pet peeve as a copy editor, and now that I’m in a totally different industry, I can barely stand to watch/read some of my area’s worst offenders. Same goes for “white female” instead of “white woman” or “juvenile” instead of child. And tons of passive voice everywhere.

        2. Student

          Nerd moment:
          Rate of movement is speed. dx/dt – first time derivative of position. This is the speed that your car goes (mph).

          Rate of speed is a real thing too. It’s the definition of acceleration. d^2x/dt^2 – second derivative. This is the core difference between a race car and a regular car – ability to get up to a speed really fast (0 to 60 mph in X seconds is a popular metric).

          Rate of acceleration is a thing. It’s called jerk. d^3x/dt^3 – third derivative. This is actually what you control in your car with the gas pedal. That’s why it takes some practice to actually drive a car smoothly. You want a set speed, but you control jerk, which is two derivatives removed from what you actually care about. You’re doing those derivatives in your head and in your legs automatically. And here I bet you thought you were bad at calculus.

          I don’t know of a formal name for anything past “jerk”, but they’re technically calculable, They just don’t have much real-world application past that.

    4. AnotherFed

      I heard “learning lesson” and immediately equated it with “opportunity to show leadership,” which we use for shit jobs no one wants to do because there is no way to come out looking good, even if you managed to successfully do the task. The lesson is of course never volunteer for opportunities to show leadership!

      1. Bwmn

        Add this to “growth opportunity”.

        If you’re encountering “learning lesson” a lot – I almost wonder if it’s similar to the nonprofit world where “empowerment” and “capacity building” feel as though they’ve morphed so far away from their dictionary terms, that there’s no point fighting it. When writing grants, I can fight all day about what either word/phrase means – or I can just churn out what I know will work for a successfully funded project without killing myself or the organization.

    5. Lindrine

      And individual companies and groups have their own pet phrases. A higher up has particular phrases he likes which grate on me a bit but it is just him and I’m not going to change it. I don’t have to interact with him much so I’ve make it a practice to smile and think of chocolate.

    6. Sadsack

      I’ve never heard it this way. I just assumed that the person saying it is confusing “lesson learned.”

      1. BenAdminGeek

        Agreed. I love that term because it’s non-judgmental. It doesn’t mean we broke something, or violated a contract, or didn’t follow the established process. It just means we’ve learned something we can apply going forward*

        *OK, I know that annoys some folks too. I hardly ever go back in time to apply the lessons going backward.

      2. Ordinary World

        My assumption, the first time I saw “Learning Lessons” on a slide presentation, was that the person had taken ‘lessons learned’ and tried to jargon it up into a something dynamic that required action. This org, and the heads, were all very enamored of the latest buzzwords, and all-hands meetings were a chore of translation.

        We were also highly encouraged to use ‘opportunity’ instead of ‘problem’.

        That place was full of ‘opportunities.’

    7. Snowglobe

      I’m in the corporate world and I’ve never heard “learning lesson” which sounds redundant to me as well. Aren’t all lessons, by definition, about learning?

      However, the first thing that popped into my mind with that phrase is to watch out for J. Walter Weatherman – ” And that’s why you always leave a note!”

    8. Koko

      Honestly, if I had a boss who was trying to micromanage my vocabulary, especially banning a phrase that plenty of my colleagues use, I’d think she was Devil-Wears-Prada crazy. I would let this one go as a boss.

    9. Bunny

      We refer to them as “Lessons Learned”. I agree it’s a bit precocious, but it’s meant to be session at the end of a project to highlight aspects that went well during the project and aspects that could be improved upon in the future. It’s a metric based on the idea of continuous improvement. I would assume that a Learning Lesson is the same as a Lesson Learned?

  2. Julie

    #1: “Why? Do you order fruit as an office perk occasionally? That would be awesome! If so, I love strawberries, but whatever you’re getting would be great.” :)

    1. Sherm

      Lol.

      “I forgot the name of the fruit, but it’s the one where people are treated with respect and paid a fair wage, conflicts are settled calmly and maturely, and mind games aren’t played. Do you have that fruit here?”

      1. hwl

        I used to ask people (at the end of the interview!) if we went to karaoke, which song would they choose? Definitely was a great way to connect and talk about an interest outside of work (music) and learn a little bit ore about their tastes. Plus when we did end up having a karaoke night it was fun to see them in action.

    2. Michelenyc

      I actually worked for a fashion company that did order fruit once a week and on the office tour during the interview it came up. It was such a nice perk.

        1. Hiding on the Internet Today

          My department has a fruit delivery. It’s not as awesome as a big bonus, but it’s a great perk. I steal a pear early and let it ripen n my desk fr later in the week and it’s a serious pleasure.

          1. embertine

            I think I work with you. Either that, or there are a number of pear connoisseurs worldwide, snaffling one from the fruit delivery and just waiting for that perfect moment of ripeness.

        2. michelenyc

          I never had to buy fruit for during the week because I always had a little bowl of fresh fruit at my desk. I think that was one of the only nice things about the company. They had to make up for the toxic environment some how.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot

        My office also has fruit delivery. It’s lovely, except that there’s not enough for the number of people, so if you don’t jump on it immediately you’re out of luck (or stuck with a green banana).

        1. bkanon

          I’ll take the green ones! I actually hate ripe bananas. They’re so … squishy. I like ’em when they’re just a smidgeon yellow.

      2. K.

        I worked somewhere that had free fruit every day. I bought less fruit in my weekly groceries because we had it at the office. It was great!

    3. Elizabeth West

      Ha! I love it.

      I always wanted to be asked what kind of tree I would be. My answer would be a mallorn tree. If the hiring manager knew what that was, then I could figure we’d get along great. But nobody ever asked!! :(

      1. Hermione

        I’d want to be a Christmas tree. Indoors, well-dressed, surrounded by presents, a literal star on my head.

          1. Hermione

            Why yes, yes I am. I also reject any applicants who do not answer grapes to the favorite fruit question. Grapes aren’t my favorite fruit, but for this Teapots Systems Coordinator position we really need someone who likes grapes, because the last person we hired liked plums and he was really just a disaster on all levels.

            Not that I’m discriminating against plum-lovers. They’re just not what we’re looking for in this position…

    4. Nother Name

      I could see this question if the position/workplace were somehow food related. Otherwise, it just seems odd…

  3. Weasel007

    I’m thinking the OP is referring to Lessons Learned, which is a corporate term used to go over issues/problems that we can gain knowledge for the next time.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        Agree. “Lessons learned” means you’ve gained knowledge from a situation. “Learning lessons” — as against what? Ignorance lessons?

            1. Kelly L.

              I don’t pronounce them the same, but there was a time as a kid where I thought “inkpen” was all one word and was just the correct name of the thing. I bet I picked it up from an adult who did have the pin/pen merger.

          1. Rowan

            That’s usually to distinguish between a pen into which the writer must input ink, eg a fountain pen, and a biro or gel pen, surely?

            1. TB

              Nope. There are people, many of them, who use “ink pen” to describe any pen that uses ink.

              I suspect they are related to the people who always say “tuna fish” but never “salmon fish.”

              1. Beti

                Thank you. That always annoyed me. Tuna fish as opposed to what, tuna chicken? Argh. (They probably use a PIN number, too.)

              2. Turtle Candle

                I grew up saying “tuna fish” in some situations (like “tuna fish sandwich”) and not in others (like not in “tuna casserole”) and it’s one of those things that is just so ingrained that I would have a real difficulty stopping! Logically I realize that it’s redundant, but it’s sort of like other common idioms–I’m not saying it while thinking of the literal meaning of each word, it’s just a phrase that’s burned into my idiolect.

              3. Amy

                I believe “tuna fish” is meant to evoke tuna salad. The phrase isn’t used for tuna in sushi, for example.

          2. Ghost Umbrella

            “Ink pen” is in contrast to a “stick pin.” (Because they’re pronounced the same, despite what my dearly beloved but damnyankee boyfriend will tell you.)

    1. lulu

      Agreed. “Lessons learned” is very big in my field (a type of project management), basically code for things that went wrong and that we can do better next time. The opposite is “best practices”. If that’s what irks you, you’re not gonna win this battle. Never heard of “learning lessons” though.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever

        I despise “best practices”. Somehow that gets twisted into new mandatory things everyone must do because that thing worked for one person, therefore of course! it’s applicable to all.

        I challenge my team to look at things from different points of view for “new perspectives”. Maybe I’m just having fun with semantics, but this seems to work much more flexibly than the idea of best practices.

      2. BenAdminGeek

        Ugh, best practices. I used to have a client who always wanted to know my company’s “best practices” whenever they’d change their plan design, even if it made no sense in context.

    2. Mockingjay

      Yes, the military uses “Lessons Learned.” It’s either a formal meeting or a written analysis after a project or exercise is completed. Points covered: technical issues, processes, communications, schedule, training, logistics, etc. We also include what went well!

      1. WorkingMom

        We used to call it a “post-mortem,” a meeting held after the project review how everything went. I think that turned into the more upbeat sounding “lessons learned.”

        1. KD

          I kind of like post-mortem. It implies that something is over. A lot of lessons learned seem to reflect back on the early stages of a project and then said project has some unforeseen issue that requires hundreds of man hours put in “yesterday” to solve it. But if the total life of a project is 5 to 20 years like my organization, I guess you have to get lessons learned from it at some point.

    3. Dr. Johnny Fever

      That’s what I was thinking. It’s common after an initiative to contact a post-mortem or debrief activity. In the corporate world, that’s known as a retrospective session (from which improvement opportunities arise) or in the form of a Lessons Learned session, i.e. what did we not know at the start that we’ve learned now, and how will we apply that to future efforts.

      I’ve never heard of a “learning lesson” although I’ve heard of “teaching moments”. I’d be like the OP – learning lesson is so redundant I’d be sticking my fingers in my ears while yelling “lalalalalala!” Such a stupid phrase.

      PS singular is datum.

    4. Original Letter Writer

      Thanks so much for all these great thoughts about jargon and misuse of language! I’m certainly not perfect myself in this area, but I do hear this particular phrase a lot in my company…or at least enough to irritate me.

      Also, I would have been thrilled if my direct report had said “lesson learned” instead of “learning lesson,” as the specific conversation was about not informing me (the manager) about working from home, when it is the policy to do so. Not only did my direct report say “that is a great idea” when I asked him to be sure inform me of wfh days in the future (WTF, it is a POLICY and good business practice!), but followed up with “learning lesson” when we discussed it in person back in the office. I think “learning lesson” added insult to injury for me.

  4. Mando Diao

    #2:
    I feel like I’ve heard the phrase “learning lesson” before, but in this situation, I’d chalk it up as one of those weird idiomatic missteps that somehow filters its way through an entire organization but isn’t an industry-wide thing. At my old job, it was “That doesn’t make sense!” as a thinly veiled way of calling someone stupid. It’s a perfectly innocuous phrase, but it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. All of that said, I’m not sure it’s worth it to work up the chain of command and say, “Hey boss, you know that weird quirk of a phrase you use a lot? It bugs me, and it’s annoying that it has become a buzzy phrase in our office.” The takeaway is that most standard offices have their version of this. This particular phrase bugs OP2 now, but if she’s prone to noticing language on this micro level (I know I am), she’s going to encounter this quirk everywhere she works.

    #5:
    I encounter this all the time in marketing. People hire you for your expertise and experience, but they never let you use your own ideas; they insist on their own bad ideas, even if the whole point of your position is that you know better. If I say something like, “If we run with this campaign, I anticipate people being confused about such-and-such, or I think the feedback will be along such-and-such lines,” I’m criticized for being neurotic and for looking for things to criticize, and then when we do get that feedback, no one ever realizes that my questions and processes have merit. tl;dr: this is unavoidable in certain fields, especially creative ones whose work is in the form of defined and finished products (like a video or a campaign). I’m planning on leaving marketing.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, I don’t think she can get her whole org to stop using it, but there’s no reason she can’t let her employee know that the phrase is a pet peeve of hers. It’s an advantage of being the boss.

      1. Hiring Mgr

        AAM, don’t you think it could come off as a little petty, or more importantly, make the employee feel like they always have to be watching their vocabulary for any little infraction, lest the boss come down on them?

        Especially when it’s a new hire..it seems slightly antagonistic when it’s a pretty minor thing..

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever

          If handled gently, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

          In this situation, OP can simply say, “Learning lesson has bothered me as a term – my thing, I know. Do you mind if we refer to them simply as lessons moving forward?”

          There’s no reason to antagonistic or heavy-handled about it. Teams often have people with different levels of information and tenure and requests are submitted often. An efficient team needs to collaborate effectively – and yes, something as small as team members using a term that drives the boss crazy can prevent effective collaboration. Success on this front is measured by how your team deals with conflict rather than ignore it, and OP has an ability to reflect how the team should handle these questions.

        2. Kyrielle

          But that’s why the suggested phrasing in the response is great – it frames it as a quirk of the boss and asks the employee to humor it, it’s not punitive or a “you must do this” thing. Honestly, if something I habitually said was nails-on-chalkboard to my boss, I’d rather know than keep giving them that nails-on-chalkboard feeling!

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Exactly how I’m thinking of it. Also, as always, the context of the relationship matters. If you have a good relationship, it’ll come off fine. If you have a tense, difficult relationship, it’s more likely to be interpreted as petty or heavy-handed (which is true of nearly everything you might say to a employee in that context).

            1. Ethyl

              Exactly. My best boss ever had this *thing* for utilize vs. use (he said “used” made him think of used cars???), and although I would occasionally push back, I let it go, because it was a friendly, supportive, encouraging relationship otherwise. On the other hand, sexist bully boss would be petty and pointless about grammar preferences, page spacing preferences, anything he felt he could bash on anyone else about, and was rude and cruel about it.

              1. Turtle Candle

                Hah, I had the exact opposite! My last manager detested the use of the word ‘utilize’ and asked us all to use ‘use’ instead. Nobody got in trouble if they slipped, but it was really clearly a personal thing that just drove her clear up a wall.

            2. neverjaunty

              Also it might be a problem if it comes across as condescending – “well in academia, where I’m from, we are careful about these things.” (Not that OP would say that! But if that attitude comes across in OP’s requests that’s going to grate.”

          2. catsAreCool

            “Honestly, if something I habitually said was nails-on-chalkboard to my boss, I’d rather know than keep giving them that nails-on-chalkboard feeling!” This!

        3. Sunflower

          As long as OP isn’t nitpicking every little phrase and term, I think it just sounds like to the direct report ‘this is a preference my boss has’. I also think OP has more leeway addressing it to a new hire as opposed to 1. someone who has worked there long term who could scoff at what the new person wants because ”learned lesson’ is how we always do it around here’ or 2. Not say anything and then decide in 9 months to say something and confuse new hire

          1. Meg Murry

            Yes, I think it makes a big difference that the person is a new hire and is just picking up the phrase. If it was someone who had been there for a while, and OP was the new person, it would be far more awkward for her to say “stop using that phrase that everyone around this office uses and you’ve been saying for years, because it annoys me!”

            If the new hire is new to the working world/industry in general, it also would be kind of OP to teach her which phrases/buzzwords are common to their industry as a whole and which are quirks just to that company. I worked at a place where most people came in there from their first job, so they were suprised to learn that some of the phrases there were terms ONLY used that that company, not industry wide. It was especially a problem when people who had worked there became managers and were writing job decriptions – I pointed out more than once when a phrase or acronym that was used only at our company made its way to external job postings that no one was going to know what they were talking about (for instance, we had a company specific phrase that would have been more generically described as “Quality Control/assurance checks” or “final product inspection”, or a habit of referring to certain instruments by the manufacturer (for instance, the “Hobart” was mixer at one job I worked at, but the dishwasher at another, so at the first job, “Hobarting” was the slang term for “mixing together powders in according to the ratio on the formula sheet” – instead of the more general term “compounding”).

        4. Turtle Candle

          I think a few things make a big difference in this:

          – If you phrase it as your own idiosyncrasy, that’s much easier to swallow than phrasing it as other people being wrong/stupid/thoughtless/whatever. “X phrase drives me bonkers; can you use Y instead?” makes it about your own preferences, vs. “X makes you sound illiterate” or “in academia we’d never put up with X” or other thing that sounds judgmental.

          – It makes a huge difference if you’re objecting to a small number of things, vs. everything. If my boss told me that a particular thing (like “learned lessons”) drove him up a wall, I’d be fine with that. But if he was jumping on me over every minor issue (“data”, “could care less”, “tuna fish”, “ATM machine”, “going forward”, “deliverables”, etc., all things that I know that specific individuals hate hate hate), even if I knew he was right, I’d be deeply irritated. At some point, watching your language for every minor gaffe or buzzword or not-technically-correct thing becomes a serious nuisance.

          – If it’s a phrase that’s really really deeply ingrained in the business culture, it can put the subordinate in an odd spot. Once, years ago, I had a manager who hated the phrase “seamless integration”–she was a developer by origin and had a very strong bone to pick with the idea of any integration being ‘seamless.’ She had reasons, good ones. She asked me nicely not to use it. But when the Big Boss wanted me to write a blurb about our company’s ‘seamless integrations’ I was in a bit of a jam. (Fortunately she was reasonable, and I was able to say, look, I know you hate this, but here’s what I got told to do, so… and she sighed and said, okay, use the phrase then.)

          But one or two real nails-on-chalkboards phrases, expressed as preferences rather than judgmentally, shouldn’t be a problem.

      2. Bend & Snap

        Yep. I had a team member who would address emails to multiple people: Hi X, Hi Y, Hi Z. It drove me bonkers because it just looked stupid. Then other team members started doing it. So I put the rule down and it stopped.

        “learning lesson” is in the same category I think–it sounds dumb. Not unreasonable for the boss to squash it.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        Totally. I just had to ask a customer the other day “Are you sure you want to do it like this? It’s not optimal to set it up like this because of x, y, and z.”. So, I politely made my case, but ultimately (because they’re cheap) he wanted to do it his way. We’ll see what he says down the road when they realize ultimately I was right and they can’t go back and undo it.

    2. Artemesia

      I once had a grant to produce 3 videos to be used in community groups to stimulate discussions of issues of racism. We had 3 scenarios to film and our production consultant told us that one of them was not going to work — it sounded clever but would really be awkward and flat filmed as a scenerio. We were in love with it — clever us — and insisted on filming it. The other two worked great; that one was, well awkward and flat. Because the producer had made very clear his point of view on it, we knew whom to blame.

      In my husband’s firm, they were providing a service to a family that was far to expensive. The family really needed to hire someone to do this task or do it themselves (it involved daily management of the life of a declining elderly person). The family insisted. My husband send them a letter outlining the costs and suggesting having lawyers at their rates do these tasks was not cost effective and recommending they hire someone else to manage these things. Their response was ‘we don’t care if it eats up his entire estate; we never want anything to do with this b@#$# again and it is worth it to us to not have to deal with it.’ There was no blowback later.

      The key when advice is not going to be followed is to VERY clearly and in writing make your point and the prediction that the result will be less than optimal and make sure all decision makers have that and have acknowledged it to you. And that anyone within your company who will sit in judgment later when things go south is also aware, in writing and has acknowledged the situation to you preferably also in writing.

      1. Kyrielle

        Yep. I once paid a lawyer a ridiculous rate to request and read an accident report for salient info that I could’ve done in the same time without charging myself, and provided the info they needed to them in a fraction of the time. And I was _thrilled_ to do it, because I did not want to ever see that report or know what was in it.

  5. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

    #4 I know we aren’t supposed to nitpick language, so Alison, please remove this if you’d rather it wasn’t here, but OP, please, please stop referring to yourself and other young women as ‘girls’. You’re all adults and it’s going to harm you and them to think of them/speak of them differently.

    #3 Consider me irked as well. That’s actually painful to hear.

    #2 Ask about this as soon as you next get the opportunity to talk in person. How are you going to feel if you spend all of the time going through the interview process and investing in wanting the job only to find that they won’t negotiate with you? As Alison says, it’s rude to them, it’s time-consuming for you, and it’s very possible that nothing will come of it.

    1. Engineer Girl

      Some of us have learned to roll with the term”girls”. Maybe because we were fighting for equal pay and equal assignments and a workplace free of sexual harassment. So the “girls” battle was down in the noise. And really, if you have achieved true freedom then you can choose to call yourself a girl (or not). You can certainly ask not to be called a girl. But please don’t force that choice on the rest of us.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

        But allowing that sort of infantalising in the workplace is very much connected to why people thought it was ok to pay less and treat women differently. If you want to call yourself a girl then please do, but referring to anybody else as such is demeaning and patronising to their professionalism.

          1. I'm a Girl

            Referring to myself as a woman feels incredibly matronly and weird.
            I refer to myself and peers as ‘girls’ or ‘lady’ because woman feels strange. Just like I haven’t admitted that I’m an adult (I’m 45). No, my parents are the adults. Calling my husband a man also seems strange – I refer to him as a ‘guy.’

            The only exception is in the plural and general form – I may refer to women in my industry/office in general, but if I’m talking about Cynthia I’ll say that lady. Same for men – I’ll say men in my industry/office, but if I’m talking about Bob I’m going to say that guy.

        1. Engineer Girl

          As someone who who actually lived and worked that battle as an Aerospace engineer I must disagree with you. I’ve found that some of my most supportive allies used the term “girls” while some of the sleaziest slimers were ultra PC in their speech. There are other larger and more important battles than this silly semantic one. For example, getting equal respect for your work. Or stopping the bleeding of women from STEM. But the “girls” hill is pathetically far too small to use resources on.

          1. JB (not in Houston)

            Everyone has to set their own priorities, so of course you get to decide that that’s not a battle for you to fight. But it’s also ok for other people to draw a line there. I work in the legal field where women have made great strides but still don’t have real equality, and getting people to stop referring to the women as “girls” is certainly a hill I’m willing to take a stand on. It’s just not far enough away from “lady lawyer” for my comfort, and it subconsciously reinforces the idea that we’re not adults like the men are. Maybe I’ve seen women lawyers referred to by older male judges as “girls” too often, and been treated like a girl instead of a woman by them too many times.

            1. Artemesia

              I am still reeling from a bumper sticker for a youth program years ago that referred to training ‘leaders and leaderettes’. I am not making this up.

                1. F.

                  If we’re going to get into PC speech here, could we please refrain from speech that is insulting to members of various religions? Using the name of Jesus Christ in this manner is insulting to Christians. Thank you.

                2. Bend & Snap

                  I don’t think we need to be censoring other posters. It’s up to each of us to manage our personal feelings of offense with regard to mainstream phrases.

                3. Bend & Snap

                  F., you’re trying to shoehorn religion into a discussion about gender equality. It doesn’t fit.

                  And nobody here is scolding individual posters because they’re “offended.” Except you.

                4. Ad Astra

                  Referring to adults as “women” rather than “girls” isn’t PC speech, it’s correct speech.

                5. Reverend(ish)

                  I just lol’d very loudly in the office. I’m thinking of working this into the liturgy the next time I do Communion. And a fantastic paper title for a journal article I want to write on healthy irreverence.

                  now if I could only get across that women are equal and Jesus’ does not have the middle name of holy, i could eliminate my two biggest pet peeves at work.

              1. JB (not in Houston)

                I can’t even come up with words for my response to that. That’s worse that “coeds,” which I haaaaate

              2. Doodle

                A school I used to work at used -ettes and “Lady [Mascots]” for all the womens’ teams. Drove me up a wall to see constant announcements that the “Tigerettes” or the “Lady Tigers” (not the actual mascot) had done well in a game. Obviously, the football team was never referred to as the “Gentlemen Tigers.” Sigh.

                1. BenAdminGeek

                  Gentlemen Tigers would be the most amazing team name ever. I imagine a tiger with 1920’s dandy look to him- small handlebar mustache, maybe a hat…. so awesome.

                2. Beti

                  I don’t care about sports at all but the WNBA pisses me off so much. It just comes across as the “real” NBA and oh, yeah, that other group the Women’s NBA. Ugh.

          2. Nashira

            I don’t think asking people to refer to all adults as adults is, in fact, a small hill.

            Sincerely,
            A woman in tech who fights many other feminist battles too

            1. Nother Name

              I think we can use “girls” for women in the office if we also use “boys” for men in the office. (And I have known people who do this.)

          3. PontoonPirate

            I’ve lived and worked that battle in my own way, too, and I think it’s good to surface the “girls” issue. I’m not an engineer. I have smushy job–I tell stories about clients so people give us more money to help them–but I don’t think I’m any less “credentialed” than someone in the STEM field to say that actually, it isn’t a “silly semantic” issue for a lot of people just because it’s not your issue. I’m not “the marketing girl.” Nobody calls my colleague “the marketing boy.” In that way, I do not get equal respect for my work. And I don’t think it’s pathetic to spend a little time pointing that out.

            1. Artemesia

              I repeat my plane conversation from my early 30s when the older business guy next to me noting my tweed suit and brief case asked if I were a ‘career girl’? I said ‘yes, yes I am, are you a career boy?’ and watched a jaw drop 30 thousand feet.

              1. Winter is Coming

                Excellent response!! I would love to seen that jaw drop.
                I recently started watching Mad Men. The early 60s was a few years before my time, so I was utterly horrified by how women were treated back then. I really had no idea. I see remnants of it today, but it really makes me appreciate all of those women who came before me who set the stage for change.

                1. Mallory Janis Ian

                  My husband and I started watching MASH reruns on Netflix the other day. We were only able to watch about 2 – 3 episodes before we ran out of interest; it just wasn’t funny, in this day and age, that all the humor was based on sexist remarks about and sexist pranks pulled on women. I guess you just had to be there in the ’70s when that shit was supposedly funny.

                2. Sadsack

                  Yeah, I watched the first two episodes and had to stop. I just got infuriated and couldn’t enjoy the show, even though it is a good show.

                3. Career Counselorette

                  We felt the same way about Cheers. After the episode where all the guys were high-fiving each other for kicking two presumed gay men out of the bar, we saddled up our nopetopus, to borrow a phrase from Captain Awkward.

                4. So Very Anonymous

                  I remember when Alan Alda was considered the epitome of sensitive manhood, which, when you watch MASH, is strange now given how sexist his character was. Anti-war, yes, but just so sexist.

                5. Nother Name

                  I love watching old movies, and it’s often very interesting (and sometimes uncomfortable) to see what was acceptable behavior not that long ago in our history. (As well as what was unacceptable behavior that we’re now OK with, for better or worse.)

                6. LBK

                  Even just watching Friends has uncomfortable moments now, and that’s not that old! Lots of gay panic jokes and Ross and Rachel’s breakup basically revolves around gross, sexist stereotypes like a woman should sacrifice her career for her boyfriend and if a man and a woman are nice to each other, they must be sleeping together.

                7. GH in SoCAl

                  @Mallory Janis Ian, I think later seasons of MASH had a very different tone than the beginning, if you want to give it another shot.

                8. Elizabeth West

                  @Mallory Janis Ian—I have that same problem re-watching it now. I still like it because it had a lot of good things to say about the waste and futility of war. And the practical joke episodes are classic. But the sexist stuff, especially in the early seasons, is a bit hard to take.

                  To be fair, it does get slightly better the further you go. And when you get to Margaret’s marriage, the heartbreak is real.

            2. De (Germany)

              It also takes, what, 2 minutes to remind people of it? Maybe 5 if that person wants to argue. I am, in fact, perfectly capable of deciding whether I went to invest that time.

            3. Business Cat

              I’m a secretary/office manager and one of my responsibilities is putting out paychecks for our field crew on Fridays. The crew came back earlier than usual one Friday and the checks weren’t yet posted. One of the newer crew members sauntered into my office and called out “Oh, Money Girl…” He received a very icy glare, along with an, “Excuse me, I couldn’t quite hear you just then, but I’m pretty sure what you said was ‘Good afternoon Ms. Business Cat, how are you?'”

          4. F.

            I agree with you, and I haven’t been a ‘girl’ since I had my first menses over 40 years ago. In my opinion, forcing people to conform to ultra PC speech norms just results in unhealthy conflict that diverts energy from the quest for meaningful advances for all people.

            1. Honeybee

              1. Calling adult women by the appropriate term is not “ultra PC”

              2. “Politically correct” literally means “showing an effort to make broad social and political changes to redress injustices caused by prejudice.” I’m not really sure how the phrase took on a negative connotation or became a bad thing over the years, but redressing injustice is emphatically not a bad thing.

              The conflict is NOT caused by the people who insist on the politically correct language; it’s caused by the folks using offensive language in the first place, and who push back when asked to use language that’s more inclusive and less offensive for all. I have no reservations about saying the problem is decidedly with the people who balk at being asked to language that is respectful and unoffensive.

          5. LBK

            After I started reading AAM, I challenged myself to eliminate “girl” from my vocabulary when referring to adults and I was surprised to see how it does reshape my thinking. I can’t quite pin down the difference, but there is something that subconsciously triggers more baseline respect and that makes me take someone more seriously when I think of her as a woman instead of a girl. Now, that probably says a lot about what’s been culturally socialized into me about women in the workplace, and I say this as someone whose mother was always the breadwinner and who has two older sisters who have also always been driven and hard working in their careers.

            My point is, it may not be the biggest issue, but if something as small and simple as getting people to change a word in their vocabulary could change the way they think, isn’t that worth doing?

              1. Doodle

                I think that LBK’s point is that it doesn’t trade off with other forms of engagement/activism/respectful interactions with other humans. I have definitely referred to myself as a “girl” without thinking about it, and I certainly respect your right to call yourself that—especially since with “Engineer Girl” there seems to be some deliberate irony—but I don’t think it prevents us from addressing more serious issues to (politely) point out that “HQ girls” does have a juvenile feel to it.

              2. themmases

                If you think other women are wasting so much of our time asking to not be insulted, what do you think of yourself for spending just as much time arguing that it’s OK to keep insulting us?

          6. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

            I really don’t wish to question your experience, and if this isn’t the hill for you that’s fine. If people were referring to “bitches” or “whores” in the workplace, though, there would be huge push back – and for many people, “girls” is just the same. It may be just a word, but if somebody was calling you bitch everyday, words would matter. I have no problem with you calling yourself a girl; I do prefer that you don’t call me one.

            1. Turtle Candle

              I don’t like being called a ‘girl’ in the workplace, but I’m startled by the idea that it’s as bad as ‘bitch’ or ‘whore.’ Is this a US/UK difference?

              1. Merry and Bright

                I don’t think so, Turtle Candle. To be called a girl work would patronising in the wrong circumstances (e.g if it is unwanted) but bitch or whore would be much worse. I’m in the UK and wasn’t aware of the comparison.

          7. Vorthys

            As a younger (though not young) woman who also works in the aerospace industry as an engineer, I hope you’ll consider the perspective that the “girls” issue is damaging in a way that the older engineers passed on because they were triaging. It’s a lower level toxicity, maybe, but the fix is so small as to be negligible, and it can make an impact on things like equal respect for good work and making it a better environment to keep from bleeding off women in STEM.

            You’re an engineer, for goodness sake. It’s basic problem solving to break a problem down and address it in smaller parts rather than a whole. Call yourself a girl all you want if you’re comfortable with it, but you may want to examine the motives behind insisting that women are pathetic and silly to ask that adults in general be spoken to and of as adults, or at least equally addressed.

            I fear you may have absorbed too much of that toxic environment if you turn on other women for wanting to be treated respectfully, and I’m sorry you had to.

          8. themmases

            This may come as a surprise to you based on your comments, but you are not the only woman in STEM here. Many women who are regulars here have written about having their work devalued or being pushed into administrative or less challenging tasks. For many people, being infantilized is part of that.

            I worked in an environment (hospital-based medical research) where my closest coworker and I were constantly called girls or “the girls” since there were two of us who worked closely together and I guess we were interchangeable. Although we brought in grant money, managed an unheard of number of projects, designed studies, and brought new technical resources to our department by learning to use them ourselves, we were “the girls”. Neither of us were ever able to get a promotion, significant raise, or even delegate non-technical tasks no matter what we did; our work was always regarded as support even when it made major technical contributions; and we both had publications or other products on which we did most of the work but received no author credit– in favor of honorary authors so uninvolved in the project they didn’t even know who we were.

            To be a “girl” was to be an early-career bright young thing at best who was really being given a great opportunity by even being included– like an intern by another name. Being a “girl” meant I would leave soon so it was OK to take advantage of me because this wasn’t my real career. Being a “girl” meant I took care of the miscellaneous stuff that would otherwise fall through the cracks, and any ambiguity in the work always meant it was just a support function. Like a secretary who happens to do IRB paperwork.

            Maybe not constantly insulting women in the workplace isn’t the single most important hill to die on. But the same could be said to people who won’t stop doing it. It’s one word, it’s not hard to stop using. It’s obvious why people don’t want to be called that, but it’s not really obvious why it’s so important to other people to get to keep saying it. If you’re tired of arguing about it and don’t think it’s a good use of everybody’s time, maybe people who say it should just stop so we can move on.

            1. LBK

              This is brilliant, especially the third paragraph. Words associate very strongly to images, particularly when used to describe a person, and the image that “girl” conjures isn’t one that gets taken seriously. That’s even more true in highly technical, male-dominated industries like STEM. So in fact, fighting for things like proper terminology contribute to the goal of increasing the number of women in STEM because it’s part of reshaping the culture so women are treated more equally.

              Sarah Silverman just did a great interview where she talked about how easy it is to stop saying a word (for her, it was dropped “gay” as an insult from her vocabulary). She talks about how as language and awareness evolve, sometimes you have to change the way you speak and it takes all of a second to do it – so why wouldn’t you?

          9. Honeybee

            If they’re so supportive, they won’t have a problem with using the word “woman” instead of “girl” when asked.

            Using the correct terminology is part of the larger and important battle. They’re not separate things.

        2. De (Germany)

          Yeah, seriously. I am not a girl and I would not like to be called one.

          My workplace is about 10 to 15 percent female.

        3. Florida

          Exactly! It’s easy to say oh, it’s just semantics, and I just roll with it. But words are powerful. Words control our thoughts, and thoughts control our actions. Signed, a woman, not a girl.

          1. Merry and Bright

            +100 Not to be misunderstood over my reply to Turtle Candle, this is spot on. A test for me is whether you would use ‘boy’ in the same context. For example, you don’t have a weather boy on the weather forecast so you don’t have a weather girl either (or shouldn’t – newspapers take note).

      2. Career Counselorette

        In addition to what everyone else said, it is not arguing in good faith to imply that because your battles for gender equity in the workplace were more extreme and pronounced in the time they occurred that you have some kind of authority to decide what contemporary gender equity issues are worth arguing over. Insisting that we stop referring to women as girls is not a choice forced on you, nor will it undermine your hard work in the fight for equal pay. It is a different kind of battle, because we are at a different point in time.

    2. edj3

      Re calling women girls. I’m a veteran of the US Army, and being called girls was most definitely part of not being accepted as equals. We did have the rank structure, which helped, but it was still a battle so yes, I agree. Don’t call us girls.

    3. Dr. Johnny Fever

      How often has AAM asked us not to moderate ourselves and let her deal with such things? Why even go here if you have an inkling you may run afoul of Alison’s preference?

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever

          Not intentionally – but thanks for calling me out on that, because I deserved it. Just frustrated by the recurrent, “I don’t know if I should do this, but I’m going to do it anyway.” I long for the days of the TWoP forums.

          I mean, it’s not like Alison has a whole page on how to comment with not nitpicking language as one of the first bullet points: https://www.askamanager.org/how-to-comment

    4. Katniss

      #4: I’ve been struggling to reshape how I use this, myself. I currently live in a sober home for women. There are 14 of us, and every woman there refers to us as a group as “girls”. Even I find myself thinking that way, and feeling that “women” sounds clunky, but that just isn’t correct! We are all grown women and on top of that we are all grown women doing a really important and healthy thing for ourselves! So I’m trying very hard to stop using “girls” there and in general.

      1. Sarah

        I’ve been working on this too where I work and have started trying to change it up and use team, neighbour, ladies, and people as substitutes at various times and it seems to work. The senior citizens I work with have indicated that they vastly prefer “ladies” or “team” vs “guys” which many of the other people in my generation in my role use.

  6. The Bimmer Guy

    OP1: I got asked an odd question on one of my recent interviews, which was conducted by both the director and the manager of the department in which I would work. The director asked me, “Now, would you tell me if I had cheese in my beard?”

    I was thrown off-guard because I thought it was one of those dumb questions that have no relevance, but I answered,”Yes, I would…especially since I can’t stand cheese of any kind.”

    The joke was, as the director explained, that the manager (who’d just joined four days previously; this is a new department) had gone through the entirety of his own interview with crumbs of cheese throughout his rather large, dark, lumberjack-style beard. So the question was intended to poke a bit of good-natured fun at the manager, who just grinned sheepishly the whole time. I thought it was funny.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon

      Haha, that would have thrown me too. It’s so, so weirdly specific. I’m glad that they explained it to you, at least.

    2. Decimus

      The weird thing is that isn’t really a terrible question. Not a great one, perhaps, but it does tell the interviewer something about you. Namely, how willing are you to question the boss or point out a mistake the boss made?

  7. Cambridge Comma

    #3, if you judge people on knowing whether data takes singular or plural verbs (and very little in grammar is black and white correct or incorrect, so much more is usage and convention), you will miss out on a lot of smart people. Applying standards for written language to speech is also often not justified.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think there’s anything here to indicate that she’s judging them as people — just saying some word choices irk her, which I don’t think it’s unreasonable or hoity-toity.

      1. Cambridge Comma

        To me, it sounded like she was contrasting smart people who say ‘data are’ with others, by implication not smart. But your interpretation might be right.

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          I kinda read it as condescending and feeling superior as well, but since I know sometimes I write things that sound that way even though that’s not at all how I feel, I figured that was the case with the OP, too. When we try to write very briefly about an issue it sometimes comes out in a way that doesn’t reflect what we really mean.

          Actually my own comment reads to me a little condescending but I can’t figure out how to fix it. My point is just that I agree it could read that way but it’s probably just because of editing choices, especially since you and I are the only two who seem to have read it that way.

          1. Original Letter Writer

            TO: Cambridge Comma

            I think you are making a really good point here. I’m not trying to be condescending or superior, but I can certainly see how it would seem that way. Even now I’m questioning my motivations a bit. In reflection I have worked only for places that were hyper about this. In fact my first professional job was working for a private foundation that included mandatory all staff grammar lessons. It isn’t the norm.

            But I do wonder, is there something actually wrong with wanting to hire people who write and speak correctly? Who present well in front of judging audiences?

            1. Turtle Candle

              I think it’s less that I think it’s wrong to judge people for imperfect grammar as the implication of high-status vs. low-status that often accompanies “in academia we did X” when comparing to non-academics. I mean, I also think that it’s important to note that usage shifts over time and contexts are not all the same, so “imperfect” in one context may be just right in another, but I think that bringing up the academic vs. not thing may get some peoples’ backs up, fairly or unfairly.

              (I say this not to jump on you, but because I think you’re best leaving that rationale off if/when you bring this up with others at your workplace. Just saying that it bugs you should be enough.)

            2. A Descriptivist

              No, but there is something wrong with having an overly rigid view of what’s “correct.” While the word “data” is derived from a form that was plural in Latin, we speak English, not Latin. And in English, which is a living, constantly changing language, is that the use of singular “data” has become standard, and is indeed far more common than the plural use of it. Using plural “data” has as much chance of making someone sound weird and pedantic as it does of making them sound smart and qualified. Insisting that it plural “data” is correct and singular “data” wrong is like objecting to someone using “you” as a singular form because it was originally a strict plural, and we all ought to say “thou” when addressing one person.

              1. A Descriptivist

                ***”And in English, which is a living, constantly changing language, the use of….” The spurious “is that” I had inserted in that sentence – now THAT is a grammatical error, because it is not a form that would be recognized or used by native English speakers in the course of natural speech or writing. Unlike singular “data”. ;)

    2. nofelix

      Conventional usage does seem to treat ‘data’ as singular sometimes. e.g. “the data shows a trend”, and not “the data show a trend”.

      1. Nea

        Data/datum has been a generational thing, in my experience. After computers became well established the thinking seems to have shifted to data as meaning output and taking the singular, with the unspoken assumption that a single datum would not be something input, but rather a 1 or 0.

        1. Beti

          (Seriously not trying to be jerky here but a discussion about proper word use and a link to Grammar Girl just below a heated discussion about the propriety of the use of the word “girl” makes me laugh – but then I’ve had a lot of coffee already.)

      2. Florida

        Merriam-Webster says it is plural, but singular or plural in construction. “Data is” and “data are” are both correct.

        1. Poohbear McGriddles

          I reckon the singular use is because people look at “data” as a bulk unit rather than a bunch of small pieces.

          It threw me off when I first heard British coworkers refer to organizations as plural rather than singular. For instance, they might say “General Electric are going to have to adjust their quarterly outlook”, whereas I would say “General Electric is going to have to adjust its quarterly outlook”.

      3. Not Karen

        Statistician here. We use data as singular all the time. The only time I’ve been “corrected” is when I wrote it as such on a document that was going to HR.

        1. Honeybee

          Yeah, I’m a psychologist who focuses on methods and quantitative analysis and I’ve heard it both ways, but I hear it as singular far more often than the plural.

      4. LabTech

        I work in academia and haven’t noticed very many using data as plural. I’ve only had one professor correct my usage for using data as singular – admittedly, in a scientific writing class. Since I don’t know which is more appropriate where I work now (formerly private lab acquired by a university), I just substitute “results” as a cop-out.

    3. Ad Astra

      I usually just have to rewrite the whole sentence because I know that “data” is plural, and I know that other people know that “data” is plural, but I also know that it sounds pretentious to say “data are.” It feels like a no-win situation.

      I’ve also completely lost the desire to fight for “whom.”

      1. Sunflower

        I’ve completely lost my desire to use whom correctly as well as some other terms. I used to try and then I decided my 10 seconds of thinking was better spent elsewhere.

  8. Janet Snakehole

    My company uses “learnings” a lot. My manager recently emailed the team that after a big event we’re handling, we would “debrief to download our collective learnings.”

    I think a bit of corpospeak has its place in the world, but dude, what was wrong with “discuss what we learned”!?

    1. Chocolate Teapot

      And sadly, it is not always possible to tell the higher-ups to stop talking drivel and speak properly.

      My personal bugbear is “Key Takeaways”. To me, that means discussing which is your favourite Fish and Chip Shop.

      1. nofelix

        I’m not keen on ‘takeaways’ either, but is there a good alternative? ‘Conclusions’ is the closest I can think of but it’s not quite the same. Key Takeaways do sound like Conclusions though at least.

      2. Nea

        I listen to the Big Finish audio plays while I commute and one of them had a villain that spoke nothing but corporate gibberish. When she was held accountable for a disaster, she begged “But I have onboarded many key learnings from this exciting business challenge!” — and I almost ran off the road, I was laughing so hard. They talk like that at work.

        1. schnapps

          Oh thank you. I needed a new podcast for my commute. I was listening to one that I really wanted to like but the guy seems like a bit of a stoner/drunk and he’s really quite boring.

          1. Nea

            Big Finish has a podcast but they use it to advertise the plays, which are for sale. Worth it, in my opinion, but fair warning.

          1. Nea

            I wish I did; I want to relisten. Unfortunately, it was one of the monthly range and from several years ago, and the monthlies tend to merge after a while. I’m not entire sure which Doctor it was, even. I think Six.

      3. K.

        Are you in the UK? In the US we say “takeout” rather than “takeaway” when referring to food, so that confusion doesn’t typically come up.

        1. Ad Astra

          Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. I’ve only heard “takeaway” in the sense of key information you learn from an experience or a document or whatever. It took me a minute to remember that “takeaway” can also be food that you pick up at the restaurant and bring home.

      4. Anonicorn

        Yeah that sounds weird to me too. The phrase “circle back” also gets under my skin. We have a weekly conference call with a fellow who says it so often that it would be a great drinking game.

    2. Katniss

      “Learnings”, to me, is just a condescending way to talk about a know-it-all online, so that would make me giggle a lot.

  9. Merry and Bright

    #1 I used to get thrown by random interview questions like these – my favourite fruit, colour, tree etc. But I’ve come to look on them as a bit of light relief amongst all the brain-teasing questions. And at least I can give a straightforward answer, unlike “What are your career plans for the next 5 years” followed by “… and the next 5 years after that”.

    I don’t know if these “favourite …” and “if you were a …” questions are some weird personality or culture fit test, but if my favourite fruit puts me out of the running then thank you for your time and good luck.

    1. BRR

      That’s a good view on the questions about some relief. For my current job, one interviewer grilled me hard for 40 min. They were really good questions but also all tough. I was exhausted after that. I would have loved for her to lob one over the plate.

      And I would love to hear the discussion in your second paragraph. “Merry and Bright said their favorite fruit was apples. I really envisioned this role as enjoying oranges the most. I don’t think we can move forward with their candidacy.”

    2. edj3

      Yes I was asked a similarly off topic question in one interview, and it was a way of determining fit. The answer wasn’t so important.

      For the record, the question was this: Chocolate chip cookies–with nuts or without? I answered that I didn’t care but that if you asked me about oatmeal cookies (with or without raisins), I would have a very definite opinion.

      1. Erin

        I think that’s a great answer. That’s probably just what they’re looking for – for you to be passionate about something and show a little personality.

      2. Poohbear McGriddles

        Why anyone would want to ruin perfectly good chocolate chip cookies (or brownies) with nuts is beyond me.

        Is it even legal to make oatmeal cookies without raisins? (Not a true AAM “Is it legal?” question, btw.)

        1. edj3

          Poohbear, you had me until the raisin comment. Raisins are just poor shriveled grapes and shouldn’t be put into yummy scrumptious oatmeal cookies. However, mini dark chocolate chips are allowed.

          1. Poohbear McGriddles

            I’ve just never seen them without raisins. It even felt weird to type “oatmeal cookies” without adding the raisins.

            Now, chocolate chips would most likely be a suitable substitution.

    3. AnonymousaurusRex

      We ask these types of questions when we’re hiring in my department, and that’s exactly why. It doesn’t matter so much what the answer is, but we try to bring up something less serious that relieves the tension inherent in the formal interview setting and see if we can get a kind of conversation going. It’s really to see what the person’s personality is like, their conversational style, and try to put the interviewee at ease. These are in group interviews, so we also offer our own favorite fruit, or talk about that time I really tried to find fresh mangosteens to bring into the office, or whatever. The candidate’s answer isn’t going to make or break the interview, but it helps in understanding how they’ll fit into our office culture.

  10. JM

    “Learning lessons” immediately reminded me of the film THE BLING RING (and the real life interviews/events that inspired it.) Watch the trailer – the character says the phrase “it’s a huge learning lesson for me,” and it’s meant to be read as a moment of ignorance. I bring this up for the collective pleasure of the group (it’s a so-so movie but a great trailer!) and as also as a vote for the “meaningless redundancy” camp. Here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4c6hmrwba0

    1. Sarasaurus

      SUCH a good trailer! I was so excited to see this movie, and really disappointed once I did. It didn’t live up to my expectations at all!

  11. Katie the Fed

    #3 “learning lesson” is stupid. But, you’re going to have to let some of these things slide. Keep in mind that part of the reason academics can seem insufferable is that they’re so very precise all the time. You can be right, but is it worth it is everyone thinks you’re a persnickety jerk?

    That being said, it’s ok to laugh at jargon sometimes. Some of my teammates started trying to make an abbreviation for an easy two-word phrase and I threatened to put them in charge of filling the candy jar if they kept it up.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      You made me laugh out loud.

      I’m a word nerd who has had to learn to relax so people don’t hate me. And I find our institutional jargon comforting, more than anything else, like friends who learn to speak their own language.

      I’ve never heard “learning lessons”. I think “learning opportunities” got corrupted somewhere along the way and now “learning opportunity” = “learning lesson” within their walls. It’ s not bad. If somebody used that with me I’d probably say “learning lessons, really??? what have we sunk to now?”<<< because we make fun of corp speak, then use it ironically, and then finally let it seep into our vocabulary anyway.

      And now: I fear that I'm going to start using "learning lessons" to see how many people at work I can bug with it the coming week.

      I am not kidding. It has a little bit of awesome in it.

      1. BRR

        I’m also temped to try and use it to see what happens. My organization lives for acronyms though so it would be shortened to ll within 24 hours.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

          Great. Now I have a two pronged plan.

          First, to start using “learning lessons” to bug the crap out of people. THEN, phase two, to abbreviate to LL, until everybody is using it and forgets what LL started out to be.

        1. F.

          As opposed to a drinking lunch? (a.k.a. ‘liquid lunch’) That has been threatened more than once in my office! LOL!

      2. PontoonPirate

        So we can expect a report at next Friday’s open thread? Will you tell us what your overall learning lesson was? It may converge with new growth developments and become the catalyst for a ground-up paradigm shift in the way we operationalize our cultural norms to align with our holistic value-systems, you know?

      3. Penelope Pitstop

        Yes, this. Some of my fellow word nerd coworkers have a running game. We try to seed ridiculous jargon and then earn points on the board if/when it’s picked up and used in the hallway and in meetings. Also, at every long and interminable meeting, we have an ongoing game of corporate jargon bingo going. Humor as survival skill.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever

            I mayyyyy have done the same thing for a major program, and I mayyyy still have it in a box somewhere :)

            1. OfficePrincess

              It’s entirely possible that I’m responsible for the mute button when my boss and I are on conference calls because there might be certain buzzwords that another department uses every single time and we just can’t handle it.

        1. Meg Murry

          Oh yes, buzzword bingo has kept me awake for many a long droning meeting when I worked at a Fortune 500 company where every layer of management had to have their own meetings to tell us the same information we’d already heard multiple times. Most of the time I appreciated that our boss kept us in the loop in real time in our weekly to biweekly (semi-weekly? whichever means every 2 weeks, not 2x a week) small group meetings, as opposed to hearing things for the first time in the big monthly or quarterly meetings – but gosh did it make them last forever to hear things I had already heard months ago, only with extra jargon, buzzwords and corporate-speak.

          My other game that kept me awake was playing “count the acronyms”. I’d take a notepad and make a list of every acronym that came out of a speaker (or question asker)’s mouth – and 2 points for any acronym that got pronounced as a word. Some of my co-workers got into it with me, and we’d make guesses as to how many points someone would rack up. “Oh, the Assistant Middle Managing Director of [NewestDepartmentName after the annual re-org where nothing changed but department names] speaking for half an hour? That’s worth 150 points, easy.” “CEO at the townhall meeting for an hour? 100 points in buzzwords, and maybe only 30 in acronyms”. We also awarded bonus points to any meeting that used the same acronym to have 2 wildly different meanings- for instance, VOC meant “Voice of the Customer” to the marketing team, but “Volatile Organic Compounds” to the technical staff or regulatory department.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever

            I jot tally marks for the number of times I hear: um, like, you know, so uh, all that stuff.

            Sometimes, I forget what the damn meetings are about.

            1. OriginalEmma

              I cringe, internally, when I hear someone in a position of authority use those space fillers (repeatedly! not just once) because they then sound so…unsure and unauthoritative! I might just be projecting because *I* would consider them unsure and not authoritative if I heard them speaking like that.

          2. Kyrielle

            Laughing over here…as long as those two don’t get mixed up. (Volatile Organic Customer? No, wait….)

    2. F.

      I actually had to google “learning lesson”, and it appears to be in use in elementary school education. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in grade school, we just called that a “lesson”. And they wonder why employers complain that employees can’t communicate effectively…grumble…mutter…back to my cave now ;P

    3. LBK

      My mom’s workplace has started using “ELMO”, which stands for “enough; let’s move on”. Intended to be thrown out in the midst of a meeting or call when one subject is derailing the conversation. I like the idea of having a keyword to end a tangent, but I just can’t picture a room full of serious business-y adults and one of them suddenly shouting “ELMO!”

    4. Florida

      I use an acronym for an easy phrase. I used to say “okay”, now I say “OK.”
      Sorry, Katie, I just couldn’t resist that one exaple. ;)

    5. OriginalEmma

      Reminds me of Better of Ted.
      “It’s an acid-interface. An ass-face!”
      “…I really don’t think these abbreviations are worth it.”

  12. nofelix

    #5 – this is a problem that will come up countless times in any creative career. There are three steps to deal with it:

    1. Early client education: when this situation happens it is already too late to do the best fixes. Ideally, clients will value your experience and the way you achieve this is all about early positioning and communication. They need to be wowed. If they start thinking they could do your job if only they had the right software/equipment/certificate then they will constantly challenge your opinions, and no amount of reasoning will solve this.

    2. Let them know the consequences: it’s their project, but you have an professional obligation to let them know how their instructions will affect the result. Try couching it in experience, e.g. “In the past, our clients have often found that they needed the X feature and it saved them money” rather than speaking in absolutes.

    3. Let go or let them go: you should know in advance what your bottom line is, and communicate that before you’re hired. Many clients will like to hear that you don’t compromise on quality. Be clear in your mind where the line is for each client. And if they haven’t reached that line and you’ve done all the above, let it go. It’s their project, their money. It’s not their duty to give you lovely projects for your portfolio. There’s always next time.

    1. nofelix

      Addendum to point 1: some clients are just not very respectful of anyone else’s skills. Try to sniff that out early and include it in your decision to take the job and any fee and term negotiations. e.g. if someone is trying to persuade you to lower your fee because of the good exposure the project will get, then this is less than useless if the final quality will likely be poor because of their meddling. You’d want more because they might make you look bad!

      1. AdAgencyChick

        OP mentioned a boss, so I’m guessing she works at an agency or shop of some kind and may not have the authority to turn down clients. But OP, if you can, this is so right! “Exposure” means nothing if the exposure is of something that stinks.

        Nofelix is also right in that any creative gig will often have you running into this issue. And it’s good for you to have a strong creative opinion and to express that opinion (work with your manager to figure out just how much you’re allowed to push back with the client). It’s also good to realize that once you have said your piece and made the alternatives clear, if the client still insists on having it their way (and you’re not in a position to turn down the work), you can mentally let go. Sometimes a client wants, and is perfectly happy with, what to you is a lesser product. Either they know it’s lesser quality but have a strict budget and their needs are not for the full-quality product, or they actually like it the bad way (see comment below re: God killing kittens). They end up happy, and you end up getting paid. Not as good as you getting paid for an end product you also love, but still a win-win in my book.

        Early on in my career I worked with an art director whose response (privately, not to the client!) when a client refused to budge was, “That’s okay, I’m not going to hang it on my wall.” I have carried that in my head for the last 10+ years and it serves quite nicely.

        1. nofelix

          Yeah, so in the cases where you can’t avoid the client then the answer is to always let it go, and communicate the possible consequences of a bad idea to both one’s boss and the client.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      Can I add too that learning to manage clients is learning a graduate level topic. It takes years to learn to manage clients skillfully and a person should expect her manager to act as a coach during the process.

      “Here are the challenges, here is why I think things will go bad, here is what I have done to try to stop things from going bad, what else can I do” << is what you should be able to bring to your boss for advice and coaching.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

        Little anecdote along those lines.

        We were pleased to get an opportunity/then order for the holiday teapots for cast and crew gifts on a major US network television show. It was a large order + hollywood you know, squee. It’s a show I watch and love! We were all excited.

        Okay so now my rep is dealing with a Hollywood type, talking on her cell while driving with the convertible top down (in our minds at least), multi tasking her make up and other important calls on hold (again, in our minds at least). There were a hundred ways this order could blow up and it was difficult to get her to focus on hard information we were giving her and to convince her to do things our way and not hers.

        More times than one my rep came to me with eyes like deer in the headlights, “now she says she wants this”. And we’d groan.

        Important: coaching my people through things like this is what I get paid for.

        Well I’ve a directive style of selling so even when it was just in opportunity and not order phase, I’d tell him, okay that’s a bad idea on her part. Show it to her her way, show it to her my way and tell her that we strongly recommend doing it my way and here’s why. And, I told him, if she sticks to her way, we’re declining the opportunity because it’s only going to go bad, there will be heartbreak, it will cost us money and, she’ll have no holiday teapots. Some really cute stars will be teapotless, not on my watch.

        Learning to manage difficult clients takes years!

        1. Meg Murry

          Yes, regarding the “show it their way, show it your way” for #5-
          if part of the issue is the room they are shooting in isn’t suitable, could you do a quick take of a few minutes shooting in that room, then show it to them, and also show another similar work you’ve already done in a better room? That way you can show them what kind of difference it can make concretely, and not have to wait until the finished product to show them what they won’t be happy with.

          Also, are you telling them what WOULD work, or only telling them that what they are providing isn’t correct or enough? For instance, you say they aren’t providing enough time with the subjects. Rather than just say “30 minutes isn’t enough time”, could you instead say “in my experience, in order to get a 5 minute clip with a person, I need at least X minutes so we have time for setup, adjusting lighting, can do a few practice runs and get a good final product” or instead of “this room won’t work because [it has only blank white walls, the sun coming in the windows will mess with the lighting and everyone will be washed out, the sound is too echo-y, etc]” could you instead say “I have concerns about filming in conference room X because [reasons] could we take a walk around the building and see if there is a better space for filming?”

          But overall, I agree with Alison’s advice to talk to your boss now, because s/he has probably been there, done that, and can either tell you how to help the client see your way, or help you understand that while you think it will be mediocre, that is good enough for this client, so just deal and move on.

          1. chillgamesh

            OP #5 here – Thank you to everyone for sharing your experiences with this! Since writing to Alison, I’ve gone to my boss to explain the situation. Basically, “I’ve recommended this and this, but they want this and that. I’m worried that the product won’t look professional with these constraints.” I described it to him as an “awkward situation.”

            He totally got what the problem was, and seemed frustrated with the clients, not me. In the end, it’s his opinion on the video that matters to me most, so I’m glad he’s in the loop now.

            1. AdAgencyChick

              Sounds like you have a boss who knows what’s what, and that’s all that really matters in the long run. Yay!

    3. AdAgencyChick

      “If they start thinking they could do your job if only they had the right software/equipment/certificate then they will constantly challenge your opinions, and no amount of reasoning will solve this.”

      Heh. One of my rules for agency life is, “Every time a client art-directs, God kills a kitten.”

      1. AVP

        and one of mine is, “Never take a job if the commercial director is also the agency creative director!” :)

    4. AVP

      Hello to my life.

      One thing that can help with the scheduling is to sit down and try to board out expectations vs reality – even just with your boss, who might not know better and just wants the client to be happy and comfortable. So you could say, “In my experience it takes at least 45 minutes with each subject for me to get the 2-3 talking points that we need to get. The first ten are about her feeling comfortable, and realistically it takes ten minutes per copy line, so do we want to scale back on what we need from each person? Or can we push back and try to get more time?”

      (We just had a client show us boards in which at least three scenes needed to be shot in one location, then their account person told us we could have a maximum of three hours in that location. Um, the space/time continuum prevents that. We pointed that out and while still unresolved, I have a good feeling that it will be eventually fixed.)

      For the background, one teensy little white lie that I’m not above in video is to say that certain backgrounds and wardrobe choices will mess with what the camera sees – not actually a lie because it’s true! Just, maybe, stretched a bit to reflect their room. Also you could try to point out, “This incredibly beige room is going to wash out all of your executives and they will not look their best, so I’m worried about them being ultimately happy….”

    5. Lynn Whitehat

      From the client’s side, sometimes the requirements are not bendable, and the final product doesn’t always have to be Oscar-worthy (or Nobel Prize-worthy, or whatever the pinnacle of success in your field is.) “Ooh, these walls are going to make people look sallow.” Well, the walls are the color they are, I’m not going to be allowed to repaint them to a more camera-friendly color, and this is an internal training video where no one is expecting stunning visuals.

      There are some things that would be unacceptable to anyone (e.g. a black shirt against a black backdrop will make you look like a disembodied floating head), but there’s a point where “good enough is good enough” for the purpose it will be used. To me, I feel like one of the things creative people should be helping me with is that kind of distinction. If you say the wall colors we have are not the best, are we talking “floating head” bad, or “this is a training video that will not be mistaken for a major motion picture” mediocre?

  13. INFJ

    I get it that learning lessons is redundant, but if my boss pointed out something nit picky like that to me as I was using it in casual conversation, it would make me feel very small. And depending on what the boss’s style usually was, it might even give me a power-trippy vibe. (I’m the boss, so I’m going to use my pull to nix this phrase I don’t like.) Aren’t we supposed to ignore minor pet peeves that others do in the workplace? (Genuinely curious how this is different)

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      I agree with you although I will confess to breaking one time over a direct report who used “needless to say” often and literally never when what she was saying was needless to say.

      I did feel bad afterwards but I’m only human.

      1. Dang

        Heh, I have a boa who says “ironically” when there is absolutely nothing ironic. I honestly wonder what he thinks it means!

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

          Think about all the hard work that goes into saying it at 100% the wrong time, every time. That’s not easy!

        2. Natalie

          I think it just becomes filler for some people, like “um” but longer. My fiancé uses “that being said” as essentially a moment for himself to pause and gather his thoughts. It drives me just crazy enough to notice it, but not so crazy that I’d mention it to him.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

            Until your 1oth anniversary when the dam of “that being said” bursts and you go all crazy with pots flying and windows cracking, and then he tells you how loudly you chew and did you know you ***snore***???

            Welcome to marriage! :-) :-)

          2. Kai

            Yeah, our director says “in terms of that” at the end of just about every sentence, seems like. It’s become a running joke in the office.

        3. Artemesia

          This one is worse because it isn’t just a bad locution like ‘learning lessons’ which is grating but not deeply deeply wrong. Misuse of ironic is deeply deeply wrong and makes someone look dumb. It is misused on the media every day — and by lots of people in ordinary conversation. ‘no Mom, it is not ironic that my husband’s middle name is the same as the town where I grew up.’

          1. Dang

            I cringe when he says it to a client… which he did again yesterday. Ugh.

            I think enough people do it so it’s not always noticeable, but the places he uses it are sometimes downright outrageous (i.e., “ironically we have everything we need to wrap this up now.” Whaaaa?)

            1. DMented Kitty

              @_@ That’s so out of place, I can’t even…

              Maybe he needs to listen to Alanis Morrisette to learn what irony is. :P

      2. AFT123

        Oh my gods I LOATHE “needless to say” – It seems to be used correctly rarely, and even then, it’s redundant.

      3. INFJ

        Ok, I’ll join in here. I once had a manager who said “cognitive” when he meant “cognizant.” Drove me looney but I never said anything because, you know, he was a manager.

    2. Career Counselorette

      I don’t know, I think there is an elegant way to point it out to someone without making them feel stupid, and I think that depending on the type of work they’re doing it can have implications for how they’re viewed by customers or vendors or funders or whoever, even if it is just said in casual conversation. I think it’d be one thing if the OP was censoring something like a regional or cultural dialect, where it’s not “correct” but it’s also not wrong in the context of how it’s said. But “learning lesson” does not make any sense, and if it is a situation where the direct report is walking around saying things like, “So irregardless of the teapot engineering and things of that nature, the learning lesson here for all intensive purposes is…” in a super-authoritative voice, it would be remiss of the manager not to say anything, because having things like that brought to your attention is part of professional development.

    3. Elizabeth the Ginger

      This is a good point. If the report uses it in writing that the OP would reasonably edit, then including it as one of several edits wouldn’t sting – but I’d feel stressed by my boss correcting my out-loud speech unless I was using or pronouncing a word really incorrectly.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think it really depends on the relationship. If you have a good relationship, and it’s said the way I framed it (“this is my quirk; humor me”), it should be fine. If don’t have a good relationship, all bets are off (with most of what you say, in fact).

  14. Workfromhome

    #5

    I deal with often in my line of work. We present options and best practices and if clients want to do something we know from experience just won’t work we will “nudge” them by saying “The experience with others that did this was X,Y,Z (bad things). Its more effective if you have their supervisor in the room so you can put a little bit of fear in them that “Hey we warned you and your boss KNOWS e warned you”

    Sometimes though they just get stubborn. We are not perfect or 100% right all the time but when it goes this far we usually protect ourselves with a section in the contract or project plan called “risks”. The language is usally more wishy washy than I like but goes like this:

    Its acknowledged that you want to do x and Y for reasons B. Doing X and Y presents the following risks and the client acknowledged they have been advised of these risks

    Get out of jail free card.

    1. chillgamesh

      OP#5 here – I think this is good advice. In my case, I work for a non-profit and I’m doing the project for a different non-profit as a “favor,” so we don’t have a formal contract. I do like the idea of describing what they’re asking for as “risky” though.

  15. ConstructionSafety

    #3. So, I’m guessing that any conversation which had “I went to the ATM machine and it wouldn’t accept my PIN number.” would send you into apoplexy?

    1. J.B.

      OMG “ATM Machine” does drive me crazy! The corporate buzzword that struck me the most is “let’s metric this”. Metric is a noun. There is a perfectly good verb which is measure. You measure and compare to a metric.

      1. jhhj

        This is pretty much unavoidable in English, which easily allows nouns to be verbs to be adjectives to be nouns. It’s annoying when there is already a [part of speech] that does what you want, but there is no way for English as it is to restrict words to their assigned part of speech.

        It’s pretty interesting, the history of it — a bunch of things have to come together, though it can be excessively simplified to “very little modifying of words (for case/tense/number/gender/etc) and very fixed word order”. But also there’s a lot of history (back to the Norman invasion) of taking in words from other languages and just letting them be whatever they want to be.

        But I totally support having linguistic pet peeves, another tradition with a long history in our language.

        1. J

          Verbing nouns can be annoying, but what I REALLY hate is when people noun verbs, which I’m seeing more and more these days. Like using “spend” as a noun instead of “spending” or “cost” or “expense.” Like “We need to reduce our marketing spend” or “that would be an additional spend.”

          Also the use of “ask” instead of “request.”

          “The client had another ask” or “that would be an ask, not sure if they would go for it.”

          Really sounds stupid.

          1. Katniss

            I had a guy who seemed nice enough ask me out “so we can conversate”.

            I may have accepted otherwise, but I said no partly because of that.

          1. DMented Kitty

            LOL DH just said this a couple of days ago and I told him “unthaw” = freeze. In fairness, he was a bit groggy with meds.

      2. Not me

        The verb/noun issue that gets me is “gift” as a verb. And yes, it somehow comes up at work.

        These things aren’t worth picking at, but :-(

        1. Ad Astra

          Oh yeah, this one seems to be picking up steam and I hate it. “Give” is a perfectly serviceable verb for this situation. No need to create a new one out of a noun.

      3. INFJ

        Is there a word for when you verb a noun? David Foster Wallace would have a field day with this thread….

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever

          It’s called a gerund when a verb ending in – ING is used as a noun.

          That’s the first time I’ve referenced that since high school.

      4. DMented Kitty

        Though I did love it when Mark Watney said, “I’m going to science the sh*t out of this.” in the movie The Martian. :D

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger

      When I joined the cross-country team in college, they took me around the locker room, explained about the laundry service for uniforms, etc. “So, let’s see. Your locker is number 212 and here’s the combination… and here’s your laundry bag. Your PIN number is 186.” I mentally winced, since it’s one of my pet peeves. Then I noticed that the laundry bag I was now holding was closed with a giant, giant safety pin. On the pin was stamped “186.”

      Ah. My pin number. Got it.

  16. insert pun here

    Re: “learning lessons.” The problem with this phrase (from my point of view as a professional word wrangler) is that it doesn’t actually mean anything that the more simple “lessons” doesn’t convey. It adds complexity and confusion, and language should, ideally, add (or maintain) clarity.

    That said, we all have words and phrases that just drive us bananas. No cure for it, as far as I am aware.

  17. Hiring Mgr

    On #2, wouldn’t it be better to raise the salary issue before the 2nd interview? I wouldn’t want to spend all the time involved if there was no way they could get in my range..

    1. LBK

      Yeah, I agree – I’m surprised Alison said to wait until the next interview rather than following up now. That’s obviously better than waiting until you get an offer, but it’s still making them commit a certain amount of time and energy arguably in bad faith.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        It’s because she’s already accepted the second interview. Ideally she would have brought it up when they invited her to the second interview, but that actually happened during the first interview, which was in the past. So I think emailing now is fine but not if the second interview is, like, tomorrow.

        1. Hiring Mgr

          Even if the second interview is tomorrow, I think I would still want to clarify this…Mainly because interviewing, especially in person, takes alot of time, energy, preparation, etc.. I think you could easily email or call them quickly to make sure you’re on the same page..

        2. LBK

          Ah, okay, that makes sense. I can see it being weird to follow up with them when you’ll see them so soon – I was imagining the interview not being for another week or something.

    2. Applesauced

      I JUST emailed about a second interview and used language from this site! “Since this our second meeting, I’d like to make sure we’re in the same ballpark. Could you please give me a idea of the salary for a Jr Teapot Specialist?”

    3. Christian Troy

      This is my stance too. If the position was 5k less, then I probably wouldn’t be so worried, but I wouldn’t really count on someone coming up 20k

    4. WorkingMom

      To OP #2, I can give my perspective as a hiring manager. I have had this happen at least twice recently. Both times I have viewed the candidates current salary, and made sure to address it in the interview, to make sure they are aware of the discrepancy. I would never take a candidate out of the running because of a compensation discrepancy, because I don’t know what their situation is, and what they are looking for. Maybe they want fewer responsibilities and therefore would accept a pay cut. Maybe the person doesn’t have health benefits currently; and the pay cut is a worthwhile trade to have insurance, or some other scenario. I always try to make sure the candidate knows about the gap, but then I usually proceed as usual – I assume that if the candidate is not willing to take any pay cut (assuming in these cases we will negotiate salary), they would remove themselves from the running.

      1. Emily

        OP here. Thanks for that insight. I do think the interviewer should have raised the discrepancy when she brought up the salary (if of course she had seen the salary portion of my application). One thing I didn’t specify in my original question to AAM was that the field I completed in the application form was ‘desired salary’ not current salary. I put my current salary in since that’s what I’d want in order to make the move. I will send an update with how it plays out!

  18. Carmen Sandiego

    #5: This probably goes without saying, but make sure you clearly document in writing your discussion with the client and get their explicit approval to move forward against your advice….whether that’s a formal contract or an email thread. I’ve been burned on this front, and it gets ugly. You’d be surprised at clients’ conveniently short memories when things don’t turn out as they’d planned.

    1. LBK

      Agreed – I’d try to have this conversation via email so that if they freak out about the final product, the OP can just forward the email and say “see below”.

  19. Chorizo

    My personal bar for annoying things: Is ths more annoying than someone running their fingernails down a chalkboard? If yes, then I say something. If no, then I let it go.

    Things worse than nails on a chalkboard:
    Chewing with your mouth open

    Everything else is less annoying to me.

  20. baseballfan

    #2 – I agree with the answer that if you are uncomfortable with the stated compensation for the position, bring it up at the next available opportunity – and not via email.

    That being said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with their stating the salary as “X-$20K” where X is what you said you were currently making. Aren’t we always saying that the salary for a position shouldn’t be based on the applicant’s current or previous earnings? Usually that’s in the context of not lowballing just because someone is currently making a lower amount, but shouldn’t it cut both ways? If “Y” is the appropriate range for the position, then it should be irrelevant what someone is currently making, whether it’s less OR more.

    All that being said, I do really dislike when job applications force you to provide salary history and/or requirements, because I think a) it’s premature and b) forces you to answer in a vacuum without feedback or discussion.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger

      There’s not necessarily anything wrong with their offered salary being $X-20K, but the company asked the OP what s/he was currently earning. So they could have used that information to make sure it was really worth moving forward with interviewing the OP.

      1. baseballfan

        That’s a fair point, but having been in the position where I was eliminated from an interview process because the team thought I would want too much money (compensation had yet to be discussed), personally I think it’s better to err on the side of not assuming someone wouldn’t be interested in the potential pay cut, but to let the candidate make that decision.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger

          They absolutely shouldn’t assume, since people might have reasons why they’d be happy to trade a pay cut for other factors (better commute, better working environment, work they care more about, etc). But they could have said, “We see you are currently making X. Our range is Y, and we wouldn’t be able to meet your current salary. Are you still interested in going forward?” Then if they say yes, take it as a yes.

          1. Emily

            Original letter writer here. In the form application the field I had to complete was ‘desired salary’. In that field I indicated my current salary, which is commensurate with the market rate for the open position. So that’s where I was surprised. That HR would see $X as the candidate’s desired salary and then pass them on to a hiring manger who indicates the job pays $X-20k. I’ll send an update with how it all plays out!

            1. baseballfan

              That makes complete sense. Desired salary could indeed be markedly different than current salary, for a variety of reasons.

              (I’m an Emily too BTW. :) )

  21. Karowen

    #4: I’m on the opposite side of the situation you’re having. I have a very close friend where I work. We take our breaks together and we’ll chat about personal things – frequently very innocuous stuff like books or TV shows, but sometimes more personal things like our SOs. (Yesterday I told her that I was singing a Beauty and the Beast song in the shower as I was washing my hair.) If we have the opportunity to, we’ll absolutely close the door or take the conversation somewhere private. It’s not that we’re gossiping about co-workers, it’s that we don’t want everyone to hear our private conversations, and I can’t imagine that they particularly want to hear it either.

    I know from when I first joined this company that seeing a bunch of people in a tight-knit group can be incredibly intimidating and frustrating, but you can’t let it bother you. If it comes out that it’s causing an issue with your work, or that they’re talking about you, that’s different. But for now I think you just have to assume that they’re talking about the super adorable thing their dogs did this weekend and let it go.

    1. LiteralGirl

      I’m on the opposite side as well. I’m close friends with a friend at work (we’ve known each other for years), and we have a new person who isn’t letting friendship happen organically. She’s hurt that we’re not all good buddies after a few months, and that is making it harder to actually develop a friendship with her.

  22. SherryD

    #4

    “I cannot help but think since they’re shutting me out that it is about me or something to do with me.”

    That’s a pretty normal reaction, but from personal experience, I bet they’re not talking about you. It’s probably just general gossip about the workplace, or chatting about their personal lives.

  23. Florida

    Too often when people need to interview someone, they go to the internet and find the top 20 questions they should ask. In that search, they find stupid questions about animals, trees, fruit, and other nonsense.

    They ask the question because they think of themselves as someone who can glean some brilliant insight on your personality based on whether you like bananas or grapes. But really, could even a world-class psychologist learn anything about you because your favorite fruit is an apple as opposed to a pear?

    The exception of course would be if you were applying for a job at a company like Ocean Spray. In that interview, you’d better say your favorite fruit is cranberry because it seem to be a part of all of their concoctions.

  24. Mockingjay

    #3. It’s all about context in your field. I’ve been a technical writer for the military for decades. Most of the documents I produce violate standard grammar and punctuation conventions left, right, and center. I’ve written style guides that would cause convulsions if I showed them to an English professor.

    But the military audience understands every word. ‘Mission accomplished.’

    I think, in your new environment, it would be fascinating to observe what your reports and colleagues mean when they use such terms. Does Learning Lesson mean someone goofed? Is it an unwritten process that perhaps should be captured? Is it a workplace culture term (” ’cause we’re all hip here”)? Figure out the context, and let the rest go.

    1. Phoebe

      Oops, sorry! This was supposed to be in reply to the comment that mentioned the Welcome to Nightvale podcast.

  25. Another Jim

    Corporate America is horrible with bad grammar and buzz words. People of very limited imagination grasping on key words that show they are part of the executive tribe. “Ask” used as a noun instead of the word “request.” After a while you just learn to accept that management sounds stupid, but unfortunately at some point you sit there and wonder if they not only just stupid or if they are indeed stupid in fact.

  26. BSharp

    Wait, in defense of the fruit lady! My boss asked me all sorts of questions that were 100% non-work-related before he hired me, because he wanted to see how I think about problems–it’s really important in my role. So he asked, “What is important to you in picking out a house?” And in my answer I revealed that I’m detail-oriented, that I’m more motivated by moving towards-a-carrot instead of away-from-a-stick, that I could read his facial reactions well and knew when to elaborate, etc. So since it was a sales role, he was able to learn a lot just by having me explain myself on something so non-work-related that I didn’t have to think too hard about it, I could just answer naturally. And that told him I’d be a good fit for the role.

    1. fposte

      I don’t see that as a defense of the fruit question, though; it’s not like there’s some huge significance to grapes over apples.

      Favorite fruit is a fill-in-the-blank question. Answers to those don’t tell you much about people beyond the manifest information, so if you’ve got that kind of question in the interview, be clear about what you want from it aside from the interview and whether it’s taking up time that could be used better.

    2. Retail Lifer

      But that question makes sense and gives the interviewer an insight into your personality. I don’t see how choosing a banana over a pear would say anything useful at all.

    3. neverjaunty

      That answer could also delve into personal information that’s not really an interviewer’s business, like having children or the cultural makeup of your family. If he wanted to know how you solve problems, why not ask about work-related examples?

  27. JM

    OP 4 – I feel your pain. I worked in a small office with three other women, and felt we all got along well. However, there were times when they would pair up and whisper several feet away from me. Obviously, they were either talking about me, or about something they didn’t want me to hear, otherwise, they would have used normal conversational tones. I would have much preferred they left the office to have these conversations — or closed the door to the break room or something. It was incredibly awkward to sit there while they whispered — I would either leave the office entirely, or put on my ear buds.

    1. Rowan

      Wasn’t it more likely they were talking about something slightly sensitive or embarrassing? I work in a similar office to you, and I might well speak very quietly if my closest office friend and I are discussing our painful periods or our ailing family members. They’re just not conversations you want everyone privy to. It doesn’t mean I don’t like the others or that I’m gossiping about them.

  28. Mark in Cali

    So I get that the fruit question is weird and doesn’t really tell you much about the candidate . . . I guess. I haven’t been a hiring manager ever, but I am told that I’d make a good leader in my office so I can imagine myself doing this at some point. Knowing myself, I feel like that’s something I might think to try in an interviewer just to see how the candidate responds. Wouldn’t it be nice to meet someone in an interview setting and have them go with the flow so much that a question about fruit doesn’t really take them back? I’d be even more impressed if they responded, “Apples, but if you don’t mind, may I ask the significance of that question?”

    I suppose if I was an interviewer there might be better ways to learn if someone has a sense of humor and can go with the flow, but I suppose like many things it would depend on the industry, the role, and the company.

    1. LBK

      I’d be even more impressed if they responded, “Apples, but if you don’t mind, may I ask the significance of that question?”

      Is that necessarily a good thing in the context, though? I can see an argument that it shows they’re not afraid to probe and question things, but there’s also an argument to be made that it’s inappropriately calling someone out. You don’t want to hire someone who’s not afraid to call out a client or an executive on a stupid question. And I think there’s better ways to figure that out than trying to play a psychological game, like asking about a challenging client they’ve worked with or a time they had to think on the spot and how they handled it.

      1. Mark in Cali

        It seems to go against the advice that an interview should be a conversation rather than an interviewer grilling a candidate. If we let people get away with stupid questions or questions that seem irrelevant, than aren’t we just perpetuating this idea that the interviewer has all the power and all the control?

        1. fposte

          But why ask a question that needs to be gotten away with in the first place? This sounds like a candidate trap, and I don’t think those reflect well on the hiring org.

        2. LBK

          An interview should be a conversation, but most conversations follow a natural flow of topics. I don’t have many conversations where I abruptly change the subject to ask a seemingly unrelated question that’s really meant as a psychological test to see how the person I’m talking to will react.

          I think you’re conflating speaking conversationally (ie in your own voice, not overly formal or rehearsed) with having a friendly conversation (like small talk). It can be conversational in nature while still being a conversation focused on work-related topics.

          (Have I said “conversation” enough yet?)

      2. Mark in Cali

        But sorry, yes I agree there is probably a better way to get after what we are both talking about.

    2. neverjaunty

      You’re forgetting that while you are interviewing them, the candidate is also interviewing you. Asking silly questions does not put your best foot forward, and makes the candidate wonder what kind of “right” answer is supposed to be appropriate to a question like that.

  29. Retail Lifer

    #3 Now that you’re in a corporate environment, prepare yourself for people making something in the upper five figure range that don’t even fully grasp elementary school grammar. My grammar leaves a bit to be desired, but I know the difference between your/you’re and there/their/they’re. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered over the years that make at least double what I do that don’t.

    1. Elizabeth West

      And they get mad when you edit their copy.
      “Here, proofread this.”
      “Okay.” *hands back corrected proof*
      “You changed stuff!”
      >_<

      I always wanted to ask, "Do you WANT to look stupid!?"

  30. Shan

    #4. I know the feeling, but try not to assume they’re chatting about you! I work in an office of 3 and this happens between my two coworkers, although it’s pretty rare. They are very senior to me and have been at the org for a combined 25 years, while I’ve been here for two, which made me pretty nervous. The first time it happened, I was totally sure they were talking about me…but turns out my coworker had some major family drama, like the kind of stuff you only see on TV, and she had just wanted to talk to our other coworker about it first since they were much closer. A few days later she told me what happened, and I couldn’t blame her at all for wanting to keep it quiet. I found out that most of the time when they closed the door, it was about that kind of stuff. It’s easy to feel left out when they chat alone, but I’ve found it’s almost never actually about me.

  31. BeeBee

    #1 – I was asked in an interview once, “If you could be any kind of sundae topping what would you be?”
    I was dumbfounded for a couple of minutes and said I would be chocolate sprinkles. I turned the question around to them, and they were shocked because apparently no other candidate had asked them that before =\

  32. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

    In my management class (whhhhy is it a grad requirement???) there was a big discussion in our book about “fun!” questions that help you learn about a potential employees personality like “on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird are you?” (from Zappos, who I have determined to be a really annoying place to work based on our text), “what’s your favorite color” and “tell me a fun fact about yourself.” I bet the fruit-interviewer was subscribing to that school of thought, even though I doubt they’d learn anything relevant about the way you answered that question.

    1. Mephyle

      Heh – they would learn that I’m indecisive and have no imagination. “What’s your favourite colour?” “Various colours; it depends.” “Tell me a fun fact about yourself.” “Um. Fun. Me. I can’t think of any.” Which are important things to know, no matter what the job is, right?

  33. Allison

    “learning lesson” definitely sounds cringeworthy. I’ve heard “learning experience” and “learning opportunity” used to put a positive spin on a situation that didn’t go well, but learning lesson . . . I can’t explain why, it just sounds awful. And oddly cutesy, but in a bad way. I know lots of people have mediocre grammar and people say redundant things like “ATM machine” and “PIN number” but for some reasons this sounds worse than those things.

    1. F.M.

      I think the phrase is supposed to be “lesson learned”. As in “Boy, hiring that obnoxious academic guy who wanted to correct everyone’s grammar was a lesson learned.”

  34. Q

    In my experience “learning lesson” is a term that means you screwed up but it wasn’t bad enough to cost a lot of money or time to fix so we’ll just call it a learning lesson and move on. As in, you learned your lesson, but don’t even mess up like that again.

  35. Allison

    #4, I have a tendency to get paranoid when I hear people having hushed conversations at work, or when a large chunk of my team goes into a meeting without me, but I also know that people have these private chats for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with me or my job security, and I have to tell myself that until/unless someone tells me there’s a problem with my work or issues renewing my contract, there’s really no need to panic.

  36. LSCO

    The fruit question sounds like it’s taken from a bad hiring advice book. It can potentially demonstrate many things – if someone chooses an apple, or an orange, then it shoes they’re stable and predictable and/or boring. Choose a mango or papaya? That’s more extrovert and outgoing. If someone goes straight to “pear, definitely pear” then they’re very direct, but if they dither “well, I like pineapples, but I also like bananas, and grapes..” then they might be indecisive. And you can tease out the “quirky” ones who say tomato.

    Of course, it’s all bull – the question reveals nothing other than a person’s favourite fruit, and *maybe* how well they deal with an unexpected curveball. But I can see the (very poor) logic behind it.

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Black cherries. Preferably vans, but bings or other black cherries will work too. Now, what do you know about me? (I live in cherry country, where I can get pollinator cherries like vans. I don’t think there is anything else there, as you rightly say.)

  37. hedgehog

    Related to #1 – I recently had an interview where the interviewer asked me how they get the caramel in a Caramilk chocolate bar. Sure, I’m sure part of the reason was to see if I could showcase my creativity/reasoning skills. But it also seemed like he was genuinely curious how haha.

    1. Ad Astra

      The only answer I’d be able to come up with for that is “Um, there’s a machine that does it?”

    2. Career Counselorette

      I kind of really like the idea of asking interview candidates a question I genuinely do not know the answer to just to see if they know it, like, “Do you know why they put silica packets in purses? ME NEITHER! What’s the DEAL with that?”

  38. C

    #3 needs to get a serious grip. You’re “galled” at the use of an excessively common corporate term? Really? I work in academic publishing–an environment where language is of the utmost importance, and I hear “learning lesson” used from our authors, editors, higher-ups, etc. all the time.

    If a boss came up to me and said that “learning lesson” bothered them so much to the point that they ask I refrain from using it in my daily conversations, I would immediately think that they were a psycho.

      1. PontoonPirate

        I wouldn’t think you were a psycho, but, unless you told me you were open to hearing about and responding to my linguistic pet-peeves, I’d think you were being a bit power-trippy and it would disappoint me.

        1. J

          Yeah this comes off as excessively nit-picky. If the boss wants to actually change a term within the organization and the communications around that term, then I get that, but picking on an employee who is just going along with how things are normally said? Very weird.

  39. F.M.

    I think the phrase is supposed to be “lesson learned”. As in “Boy, hiring that obnoxious academic guy who wanted to correct everyone’s grammar was a lesson learned.”

  40. LD

    Regarding the “learning lesson”… Perhaps it was said/misused by someone at a high level of authority in the organization and since no one felt comfortable correcting it or asking about it, others picked up the usage instead and now it’s jargon at their organization. I can see that. People mimic the powerful all the time even when they know better. YMMV!

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