my coworker keeps telling me not to worry when he’s slow in getting back to me

A reader writes:

I have a colleague on another team who I rely on for information, etc. to complete projects, and who is often very slow getting back to me.

When I chase him up, he implies I am overreacting and says (in what I perceive to be a condescending tone), “Don’t worry, it will all get done” or “it’s okay, it’s okay, I will help you get it sorted” or “Don’t get upset, I’ll do it.”

I’m not upset. I am just trying to do my job, and I want him to do his! He often comes to my desk to say this, and I’m worried that it appears to other colleagues like I’m overly worried and in need of this reassurance/ support.

I have considered whether I am seeming overly stressed in my communications with him, but I haven’t had that feedback from others. I can’t help but feel that he is acting like this because he wants to deflect attention from how many deadlines he is missing (and maybe because he doesn’t like to be chased for deadlines by a much younger woman).

What can I say to him to convince him that I’m not stressed, and stop him talking about my feelings all the time? It’s very hard to say “I’m not worried” in a way which doesn’t suggest the opposite!

Ick, that would irk me too. It’s possible it’s a sort of verbal tic, but you’re absolutely right that it’s condescending whether he means it that way or not. And yes, it’s deflecting attention from the fact that you’re having to chase him down in the first place.

I’d say this: “Fergus, I don’t need to be reassured and I’m not upset. But I frequently have to follow up with you to get items, and that’s time I’d rather be spending on other things. Is there a better way for me to get this information from you?”

I like that language because it puts the focus back on him and forces him to answer a question about his work habits.

If you try this a couple of times and it still continues, then I’d say this: “Is there something I’m doing that make you think I need to be reassured like this?”

Making him fumble for an explanation is likely to discourage him from continuing it in the future. But if he still keeps it up, at that point your choices are to ignore or to keep calling him out on it. If you choose the latter:
– “I don’t need to be soothed. I just need X.”
– “There’s no need for all this emotional support. I just need X.”
– Or if you’re comfortable with it and your dynamic with him allows for this: “I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but it comes across as awfully condescending to to say things like that.”

Of course, with all of this, make sure you’re speaking in a flat, calm tone or you’ll undermine the message.

{ 322 comments… read them below }

  1. AF*

    Just wanted to +100000000000 what Alison said! This is so so so aggravating. I’d love to hear an update about how Fergus reacts, or whether he goes full gaslighting on you. Good luck!

    1. OP*

      OP here!

      Last night (just after I found out Alison would be answering my question) Fergus sent a ton of last minute comments and changes on something the person I supervise was finishing off, and she had to work until 10pm and then come in today on her day off just to get it finished.

      After reading Alison’s response and some of the comments here I emailed him and explained the impact it had, and asked whether we could have a chat about the way our teams worked together so we can make sure we are engaging with him and his team effectively, making sure they’re inputting at the right time etc. He replied that “none of his comments were important anyway, and they weren’t a big deal, so we should have just ignored them if it was going to cause so much work”!!! (it’s not at all believable that he didn’t know they would be big changes or that he didn’t actually want us to make them).

      We are having a coffee on Monday, so I am going to hopefully use Alison approach if he raises my feelings again- will let you know how it goes!

      1. PollyQ*

        Ah, so he’s a jerky colleague overall, not just in one specific way, a.k.a., “it’s not my fault, it’s never my fault, and why are you all freaking out?” Pfft.

      2. Artemesia*

        Time to take that note up to the next level. Who has authority over both teams? I would frame it as an ongoing problem with Fergus and that you are planning to discuss it with him on Monday and need the boss’s advice on how to handle this. Lay out that frequently his work his late and causes delays or work for others (they show this specific example but note it is one of many) and also mention that when you push him for past due deliverables, he instead makes condescending comments that imply you are in need of emotional support instead of to just adjust his work to get things to people when they are needed. That is just two clear points. You don’t need to ramble but make both points. And asking for the boss’s advice is a way to make you the problem solver here and also clue him or her in.

        That response is golden as is having it in writing. What a tool.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Agree with everything you said here. OP needs to escalate this issue up the chain of command if only to keep her direct reports from having to continuously work late and come in on their days off.

          1. Katie F*

            Yes, the point at which you’re forcing someone to get less than six hours of sleep ENTIRELY DUE to you not doing your job is the point at which we move to escalation. OP has talked to this guy and gotten not only an unsatisfactory answer, but an obvious attempt to shift blame onto the OP (“It’s YOUR fault for not ignoring my comments, NOT mine for insisting on a ton of last-minute changes i knew would be inconvenient/constantly missing deadlines/sometimes just not doing things”). This needs to go above his head, he’s not going to change here.

      3. One of the Sarahs*

        That response just made me shudder! I second the “take it up a level” because if he truly believes his comments aren’t important, he should respond that it’s all OK, but it’s a really passive aggressive way to try to put the blame for his lateness onto you and your colleague. Good luck, OP, you have my sympathies.

        1. Kathryn*

          I don’t disagree with the idea of escalating (or with everyone’s feeling of vexation) BUT I would like to suggest a counterpoint: Maybe this guy actually has a point. Is it possible that the comments could actually be ignored? Does the OP have the authority to ignore them next time if feedback comes too late? Or to simply say to him something like, “in the future, if I don’t get your notes by [x deadline] I will assume you have no changes.” And then just proceed with the project without him? It seems to me the OP might be missing a chance to impose the natural consequences of this guy’s actions–if he drags his feet, then he’s not included in the project.

          And…ok, I kinda hate to say this, and I want to preface by saying I am a woman, and a hard-core feminist, and totally on the OP’s side, and not trying to pick a fight or make anyone feel bad…is it possible that the OP *is* being high-strung and insecure about how she manages this process? I can’t help but see this through the filter of gender: it is the women who are typically overfunctioning and conscientious to a fault. Meanwhile, the men take things in stride, and instead of taking work assignments at face value, they blow off the non-critical tasks and instead spend their energy on things like networking–and consequently move up the ladder while the good little worker bee women don’t move forward because they don’t know how to play the game. It would not surprise me if this guy was actively sabotaging her. It’s not just that he’s a jerk–he could be doing it *strategically*. And by giving his actions so much importance, the OP could be playing into his hand.

          Obviously I don’t know enough about the situation to have a conviction that I am right. I could be totally mistaken. However, I thought it might be helpful to point out that possibility. I am reading a book that someone on this site recommended called “Hardball for Women” (wish I knew who it was who recommended it because I’d like to thank them!!) and now that my insight into gender differences in the workplace is increasing, I can’t help but see patterns like this.

          Hope this is useful.

          1. Observer*

            I can’t help but see this through the filter of gender:

            Looking at it through that filter should actually give you a different answer if you have read everything that she wrote about the problem, and take her word on the facts of the situation. She’s being very clear that the information being asked for and provided is important and necessary to the job – not to an unreasonable level of perfection and at a “hyper” anything level, but to do the job right.

            Perhaps you should look at your response with that filter. What you seem to be saying is that the OP is the problem, because she’s probably making stereotypical female mistakes (such as being too good at her job), while Fergus is engaging in stereotypical job management by deciding what it critical, and blowing off those items he deems to not be critical (despite this part no being in his job description.) And you seem to assume that *his* claim that the information asked for and provided was not important, while dismissing *her* claim that this was a totally non-credible take, apparently based on nothing but their gender. Seriously?

            1. VioletM*

              No, she wasn’t saying the OP was the problem – she said that the guy was trying to sabotage her. Fergus was deciding what was important *to him*, not to the project and not to the company.

  2. Catalin*

    If you’re dramatically gifted, you can try the utterly baffled/slightly disturbed face like you CANNOT BELIEVE he would say what he just said (pretend he just said ‘I am the walrus’ if that helps). Follow with, “I just need the response/input/information as soon as possible/by COB/no later than Tuesday the 5th,” in a completely dry even tone. Follow that by steady eye contact until he gets uncomfortable and leaves.

    NEVER put up with a man treating you like you are anxious/hysterical/dumb/inferior/’emotional’ because he WILL continue to do so. Handle it calmly, coolly, and professionally but handle it.

    1. Risa*

      The dry even tone is key…. If you are starting to show frustration (because, honestly, who wouldn’t), in his mind, you starting to do exactly what he is accusing you of, those validating his viewpoint. So to counter-balance his warped perception of your behavior, try to do the exact opposite of what he’s accusing you of… especially if it’s in front of others.

      1. Rat Racer*

        That’s a great point. I might even add a charming smile and say “That’s great! When.

      2. Rat Racer*

        Or, there’s always that quote from Floyd in True Romance: “Don’t you con-den-send me, I’ll f***in’ kill ya, man.”

      3. orchidsandtea*

        Yes, even sounding a bit bored. I love hbc’s script below, with statistics.

        OP, it’s worth talking to your boss about his inability to follow up. Maybe you can get the data from another source, like this guy’s replacement.
        Honestly, it’s completely unacceptable for him to have a consistent problem doing his job in a timely manner, and then to respond with manipulation instead of results.

        1. JessaB*

          Also it’s possible that he’s repeating this gaslighting stuff to other people, so keep your ears open for other people following in his lead about “OMG OP is always sooooo emotional, about this garbage. Makes such a big deal of stuff.” When what you’re really doing is making him do his job, but he doesn’t want to. If he gets out ahead of you on it, people are going to believe him. I second the talking to the boss thing, before he gets there first and poisons that well.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            This is what I’m worried about. Or he’s at least saying these things loud enough for others to hear, thus giving the impression Ops the issue and deflecting his inability to do sh#% on time.

    2. Laura*

      THIS. Fergus is a guy trying to make a woman feel crazy and that is SO not okay for the workplace (or anywhere, actually). I recommend practicing your responses in a mirror before implementing them, because that calm, cool tone is key.

    3. KR*

      I wish I had this advice a few years ago. I had a manager tell me to stop acting like a brat because I was getting frustrated with him. He was pressuring me to stay late because he forgot to schedule someone to work mid-shift, but I had plans that I absolutely did not want to miss. That was one of the many points where I stopped giving a shit about that job.

        1. Julia*

          Sounds believable to me. When I told me boss about my co-worker withholding information from me, he said I needed to take care of my problems since I wasn’t in school anymore.

    4. Scott M*

      I once dealt with a coworker from another department, who always had an exasperated and frantic tone when she talked to me. Her tone seemed to imply “OMG THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD”, even though her actual words didn’t.
      While the OP’s coworker probably shouldn’t be saying what he is saying, I’m wondering if the OP’s tone of voice might be contributing to the misunderstanding.

      1. Just Visiting*

        Yeah, I’ve had two coworkers like this, who always sound/ed frazzled and thought everything was an emergency. So I’ve been this guy. (I’m a woman, both these coworkers were/are also women.) It’s either that or freak out myself. I think this situation needs a neutral third-party observer.

        1. LabLady*

          Based on the following from the OP:

          I have considered whether I am seeming overly stressed in my communications with him, but I haven’t had that feedback from others.

          She has already considered her tone, and sought feedback from others. At this point I don’t think it’s useful for her to consider her tone.

          1. Julia*

            Plus, dude is actually and really way behind the deadline. OP is not making a big deal out of nothing.

    5. Ignis Invictus*

      That’s the least manipulative, most professional response possible. If the gent doesn’t get it though, escalate. Take a chapter from the NPD playbook and suggest there’s an interpersonal skills deficit on his part something along the lines of “Fergus, I say this as a friend, you have a habit of misinterpreting appropriate business urgency as *stumble for word choice out of bafflement*… emotional distress. Recent studies have shown that decent interpersonal skills make all the difference in career advancement. I can recommend some great books that could go along way towards… bolstering *fumble for word, as if you’re really worried about his feelings* your interpersonal skills. Moving on, when can I expect x?”

      1. Ignis Invictus*

        Oh, and do this directly after he makes one of his “too emotional” quips, preferably when he’s come to your area to give an update. Don’t respond to the actual content of what he was saying, i.e. the actual status update, pause and pull this out. Make sure it’s within earshot of several co-workers, the tone should be utmost concern, then a drastic mood change to upbeat professional. If you can stomach it, at the end, smile like he’s your best friend in the world.

  3. justcourt*

    He’s trying to paint you as overly emotional/fragile, so you become the issue rather than his missed deadlines. And he’s getting you to question your reaction/judgment. It’s very manipulative, and you’re right to be annoyed.

    I have no advice to add because Alison’s advice is spot on, but I am with you in thinking this guy’s behavior is obnoxious.

    1. Just Another Techie*

      Yes this. He knows he’s effing up and he’s trying to manipulate you, and relying on the age and gender differential to help him. Whatever else you do, OP, please remain confident in yourself and your judgment. You are not the problem here, Fergus is.

    2. OriginalYup*

      Yep, it’s a double bind. The co irker is so obnoxious that you *get* upset, and then it’s all, “Geez, she’s so emotional, I don’t know her problem is.”

      I’m a big fan of the raised eyebrow and very dry delivery to counteract their bullsh+t. As in:
      Them: “Don’t worry, I’ll help you.”
      Me (drily): “Super. Maybe you could start helping me by sending me the file I just asked for?”

      1. Liz*

        This, except I’d be more specific. “Super. Maybe you could start helping me by sending me the file I asked for two weeks ago?”

        1. JessaB*

          Yes, the more specific the better. “The file I asked for two weeks ago, last week, this Monday and yesterday. Thank you.”

        2. Jill*

          This is what I came to say. Pay no mind to the fact that you’re younger – if he hasn’t already, he’ll try to use that against you, too. Your facial expression needs to read “Don’t give me that BS”. I find that a single raised eyebrow combined with that look teachers give when they’re looking at you over their glasses look and a very clipped tone does the job quite nicely. And OriginalYup’s line is great!

          1. OP*

            It’s the letter writer here! Thanks so much for saying this- I am going to practice in the mirror over the weekend!

            I think I have been quite slow on stopping this behaviour as at the start i thought he was just being nice, and so I probably looks a bit confused. it took me a while to work out why it was bothered me.

    3. INTP*

      Yes, exactly. I would add one thing to Alison’s advice though – provide concrete reasons why you need the work done on your timeline rather than his, so that it’s not an issue of whose personal sense of urgency is correct. “I need 5 hours to form the tempered chocolate into a spout, and Teapot QA is expecting the spout by EOD on Friday. I’m not requesting the chocolate because I’m in a rush, but because EOD Wednesday is the absolute latest that I can receive the chocolate and create the spout in time to not disturb the timeline of the project in a way that impacts other departments.” Do pad this timeline a little, of course, because this type of person will always cut it close and then wonder why other people don’t like to stay late and work in a rush.

  4. AMG*

    Urgh. That would piss me off. Making it seem like you are being an Emotional Female for wanting him to provide his deliverables. I love Alison’s responses. They remind me of a book I read about bullies in the workplace. Fergus is playing a pretty standard maneuver, and the calmer you are, the more you retain power in this situation

    1. Artemesia*

      The phrase ‘treats me like an emotional female for just wanting him to meet his deadlines and provide his deliverables so we can get the job done’ should be salted away for when the first 3 steps don’t work and you need to go to the boss about it. Because when the boss brings it up to him he will do this same ‘she is so nervous and panics constantly — she knows it always gets done’ schtick with the boss as well. This is classic sexist nonsense in the workplace and needs pushing back.

      1. AMG*

        It’s either Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, or Working with You is Killing Me. There are tons out there.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      Provide the facts. The issue isn’t about work getting done. The issue is work getting done by the deadline. In a real time system late is a failure.
      Next time tell your coworker you need X by Y date. When he misses it go to him and tell him it’s late. Keep track. When (not if) he has missed 5-6 deadlines escalate to your boss and his boss.
      Just the facts keeps you from being labeled emotional.

      1. INTP*

        Yes, exactly. And when he accuses you of stressing out too much about deadlines, list the factual consequences of missing deadlines, so that he can’t deflect it as you just caring about the deadlines because you’re a neurotic woman being neurotic. “The deadline for X is Y, because [next department in the process] is expecting X on Z date, Y date is the latest that I can receive X and not risk not being able to finish by Z date. It reflects poorly on our department, causes issues for other departments, and risks causing a delay in delivery to the customer if we don’t stick to our department’s deadlines.” Of course, this is a guy who gets away with being late because other people scramble to compensate, so he’ll keep missing deadlines, but then you have laid this out in a way that proves that he was aware of the consequences of missing deadlines and you were not just giving arbitrary deadlines and being inflexible about them.

      2. JessaB*

        And it’s also about the fact that the OP has more than one deadline, and just because it will get done in time, doesn’t mean that OP having to scramble and run around getting stuff done is appropriate. The OP has organised their schedule to get x, y and z done at certain times. Having to, always at the last minute, fish around to get y, is not a smooth nor comfortable way to have to work.

        1. Emily*

          Right! I worked with someone who’d procrastinate on his part of our shared projects, then churn out a month’s worth of work in a day and a half. Then he’d finally turn it over, leaving me to 1) rush to complete my own portion of the work, 2) correct the careless mistakes he’d made in his haste, and 3) apologize to the next person down the workflow line for the late delivery. I tried asking for ETAs. I tried asking him to send material as he finished it so that I could pace my work. I tried proposing adjustments to the division of labor (i.e. “instead of you doing A&B and me doing 1&2, how about you do A+1 and I’ll do B+2”).

          Like INTP said, he gets away with this pattern because others compensate for the good of the work/department/company and/or to protect their own reputations (e.g. if I overlooked one of my coworker’s careless errors, it reflected poorly on me, not him.)

          In fact, every trip over to your desk to placate you is more likely just another opportunity to procrastinate and/or gloss over the fact that he doesn’t have the work done (because replying via email with an excuse rather than the info you requested would be too glaring) rather than an intentional move to undermine you.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            We had one group consistently deliver late. My strategy would state that I would provide my deliveries X days after I received the required inputs. They’d always say, “so you are delivering on Y day’ and I would say “No, I will be delivering X days after I receive my inputs.”
            Of course the other team didn’t deliver. I would then email my boss and theirs stating “Because I have not received my inputs the new delivery date is Z. That will make your product late”.
            Person still tried power play. Person had is manager breathing down his neck.

    3. OP*

      I’m glad other people see it from the ’emotional female’ angle. I was worried I was reading too much into it, and I hesitated to put it into the initial letter.

      He also sometimes acts really confused all the time about what he’s supposed to be doing, and says things like “oh, you’re so much better at this than me” “you know everything, I don’t really know what’s going on”, to sort of try to get me to take things on.

      It sort of feels a bit like when you’re a child and you pretend not to be able to do the washing up or whatever so your mum will do it for you!

      1. Aurion*

        This reminds me of a shot from the Agent Carter show where some idiot tried to dump filing on her because “you’re so good at it” or some crap.

        Peggy looks at him, smiles really big, and said “Oh, I can teach you. Let’s start with the letter A.”

        I’m not saying acid sarcasm it’s a great tack if you want to preserve workplace harmony, but that scene spoke to me. (Alas, I haven’t watched that show and I keep waiting for it to hit Netflix in my country.) For a more (faux) diplomatic approach, OP, maybe you could stress where the training materials are for whatever task your coworker wants to dump on you?

        1. OP*


          Yes, I think I will start trying to be less helpful with how I respond to this sort of comment (e.g. send him the relevant email chain explaining the issue, rather than talking him through it again).

          It’s really annoying because I had a really good relationship with his predecessor and we helped each other out a lot/ would answer each others questions. I need to get out of that mindset!

      2. Mreasy*

        Hello, I am in charge of a company, and I get this s**t from a lot of men who are late getting deliverables to me, when I am terser and less emotional than they are. It’s precisely an attempt to make your desire for the things you need to do your job seem like emotional overreaction, to deflect from their failure to complete. It is total garbage and I’m sorry that you’re dealing with it.

  5. Important Moi*

    There’s a difference between “missing a deadline” vs. not providing information as soon as you think you need it. Which is it?
    Document that you have ask him for information, preferably with a deadline. That way when when you don’t have the information at the needed time, you will have objective evidence as to why not. Also, have you contacted your supervisor or his with regards to him missing deadlines?

    If you find his tone condescending, report that too.

    Your feelings? Just say “I’m not upset. I just need the information.” Repeat as many times as needed. You do not have to provide any type of additional explanation.

    1. Althea*

      I am under the impression that OP has already done this. From here: ” he wants to deflect attention from how many deadlines he is missing (and maybe because he doesn’t like to be chased for deadlines by a much younger woman).”

      Sounds to me like they are deadlines, not just open-ended requests.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Eh, disagree that she should lead off with “I’m not upset.” That just gets sucked into his argument; it is not relevant whether she is or isn’t upset, it’s a derail, and there is no need to disavow being upset before getting to the real point.

      1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        Very good point. Talking about her emotions is just time spent not talking about when he’s going to give her what she needs.

  6. Murphy*

    “Don’t worry, it will all get done”

    This can be my husband’s default when I’m stressed (not about work stuff, but generally home stuff). It drives me up. the. wall! No, honey, it won’t all get done. Someone has to, you know, do it. Grrr. (I love him, I do, he can just be too chill).

    If this was a work situation I’d be pissed too. I really like Alison’s “I don’t need to be soothed” language since it gets to the heart of the patronizing way he’s dealing with you and making it clear that you still need X from him.

    1. Artemesia*

      Spot on. I recently watched a major event get ‘done’ at the very last minute (they were scouting up a bus to take people to the venue the day before the event) because the organizers just said ‘oh it will all work out’ and ‘it will get done’ but didn’t DO IT. Thus half a dozen other people got twisted into pretzels getting the caterer the week before, arranging the transportation etc etc. Don’t say ‘it will all get done’ while not pulling your damn oar.

      1. AMT*

        The implication is, “It’ll get done by people who actually care about it getting done, but on a much tighter deadline than they would have if I’d done my job!”

      2. neverjaunty*

        “How, and by whom, dear?”

        There are things that one should let slide in the interests of long term marital harmony, but the derailing use of passive voice is not among them.

        1. AMG*

          that’s when I started hiring someone to do the stuff. He may not want to get it done, but he wants to pay people for doing it even less. No fuss, no arguing and it gets done. Next time, he responds more quickly.

        2. Murphy*

          The “how and by whom, dear?” language has been used more times than I can count in our house. It was particularly bad when we were planning our wedding or getting ready for our baby (don’t worry, the nursery will get set up in time). Oh really? Because that crib has been in the box for a month now, and I’m as big as a house.

          Luckily, in my case it never comes from a “don’t you worry your pretty little head about it” place but a genuine “I don’t mind the last minute chaos and will get it done just in time” place (which, yeah, it does…). The second one makes my eye twitch while the first makes me stabby, so it’s a win for us.

          1. neverjaunty*

            If he has a track record of getting it done on his own, without a last minute scramble causing problems for other people, and the only disconnect is a different comfort level with ‘how far ahead does it get done’, I can totally see that working with minimal twitching.

            Otherwise, all I can say is that cross-examination is an INVALUABLE skill in marriage. ;)

        3. many bells down*

          My husband’s is “We should do …” We? WE? “We” both know it’s gonna be ME that does it. I’ve told him “do not say ‘we’ when you mean ‘me’.” He’s getting better.

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            Haha, my husband and I are both bad about this. His standard response to me is, “‘We?’ Do you have a mouse in your pocket?”

        4. Katie F*

          Yeah, we get that in my house, too.

          “Don’t worry, it’ll get done,” stated about fifteen million times.
          “Yes, and it will get done because -I- will do it, so if you don’t mind I am going to stress out about where in God’s name I’m going to find time to accomplish that task while I’m busy murdering you and getting my friends to be my alibi.”

          1. JessaB*

            And making sure my friend with the Lincoln Continental Land Yacht with the three body sized trunk is available at the same time. My friends and I used to rate cars as “how many bodies could you put in that trunk?” it was more interesting than how much groceries.

              1. Murphy*

                I wouldn’t. You can’t hide the bodies from view when the seats are folded down. It also make hatchbacks a bad car for the job.

                1. Snork Maiden*

                  Unmarked white work vans. Chuck a ladder on the roof, and wear a reflective vest. You can fit tons of bodies in the back. Nobody says “Don’t worry, it’ll get done” to me again.

                2. Pennalynn Lott*

                  I had a hatchback that had one of those pull-out covers. I could have easily fit two bodies in there. (I was always really good at Tetris).

                3. Clewgarnet*

                  Put a tarpaulin over the bodies. A few branches strategically sticking out, and you’re just taking some garden rubbish to the tip.

    2. AF*

      And yes, it usually DOES get done. It’s just that someone has always (apparently) done the work/cleaned up the mess for this person, so THEY always get by and aren’t held accountable. If I had a nickel for every time that has happened to me, I could retire.

      1. Althea*

        Exactly. “It will get done” to me sounds like, “I’m so used to people managing to get things done despite my incompetence that I assume it will happen every time.”

        1. JessaB*

          And I do not care how much stress, agita or trouble I make for them to get it done. I don’t care if it makes them work late or miss something they want to do, or makes them look bad to our boss or our clients, because it’s getting done you see. I don’t care if they actually do have a stress disorder/anxiety/migraines/whatever and I’m triggering them either.

      2. Jadelyn*

        This is it PRECISELY.

        I decided years ago that the definition of adulthood is when you finally *get*, on a gut-deep level, that if you don’t do things nobody else is going to do them for you. No matter how crappy you feel, someone has to feed the cat and take the kids to school. And some people never really get to that point of self-sufficiency, so you end up with dudes like this guy.

        1. Salyan*

          YES! I love this definition. I’ve been working through possible definitions of adulthood after some recent… er… ‘episodes’ with young people who think they’re adults because of the age on their driver’s license but who won’t. follow. up.

    3. Aurion*

      That phrase enrages me. Because what happens is you running around at the 11th hour asking me things I tried to tell you about a week ago and if you didn’t have me holding your hand through the entire thing, it wouldn’t get done. So you benefit from me banging my head for three days and I help you get it done in two hours. Of course it gets done, because you had help. If I wasn’t here, you’d be up shit creek without a paddle.

      Of course, the people who don’t even see the last minute scramble are far worse…

    4. Argh!*

      If things do get done and they’re done right and in time, then yes, it’s not worth worrying about.

      If the job is being affected, then that’s the topic, not his procrastination (which will cause him to be defensive) or the OP’s feelings. “Fergus, if xxx doesn’t get to me by xx-date, then yyy will be delayed.”

      1. JessaB*

        It’s not always about something being delayed, it’s sometimes about the physical and mental stress of having to always scramble at the last minute. Some people live in this space and are good at it and don’t care, some people have major physical problems because of stressors like this. The fact that it gets done in time is not relevant if the person has to stay til 9pm the night before despite having had theatre tickets for months, or having to make last minute arrangements to get the kids or take care of mom or whatever. It’s not actually getting done properly even if on time and correct, if this is happening on a regular basis.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          “Some people are good at living in this space…”
          So true. My daughter just broke with her boyfriend, who was supporting her while she’s in school, because every month he’d get paid, then party and buy whatever toys/gadgets he wanted, and then when there was just barely enough money left, pay the bills…late. The stress of all the late notices was giving her panic attacks but he just didn’t see what the problem was.

          1. CS Rep by Day, Writer by Night*

            I have a co-worker who thrives on flying by the seat of his pants. He’ll scrap weeks of work and pull an all nighter or put together whole chunks of presentations he’s known about for months in the plane on the way to the meeting. I only worked with him on a project once and it drove me right up the wall. I’m very meticulous and methodical in my work habits, so his frantic energy was exhausting for me.

    5. Hlyssande*

      This just happened to my extremely pregnant friend who is the registration head for a local con that’s happening this weekend. She’s not the person who buys the badges/materials, etc, and she didn’t get ANY of it until Tuesday night. The con starts tomorrow.

    6. Janice in Accounting*

      My husband said something similar to this recently–I was stressing out about our daughter’s college and scholarship applications and all that has to be done during senior year, and he (a pastor) said, “It’s not good for you to worry about all this! You need to trust God to handle your stress.” I said, “Honey, I completely believe God can handle my stress, but I’m pretty sure He’s not going to fill out all these forms.”

  7. Jessie*

    Oh, ugh. I despise this. It’s very manipulative behavior and, from my experience, it’s done intentionally in order to try to turn the tables by making it look like their failure is actually your problem, in that you’re “freaking out” about something rather than the fact that they aren’t performing. And, to be honest, every time I’ve seen this it’s been a male using it against a female. I find that it’s used to make you feel uncomfortable with following up with them.

    I suspect you’re probably right in thinking that the tone is condescending. I actually disagree with AAM’s suggestion of saying something like “I don’t need emotional support” because I think that only encourages them by showing this behavior gets to you. Instead, I would continue to be direct about what you need. He’ll do either one of two things: a) knock it off when he realizes it’s not going to work on you or b) amp it up. If the latter happens, I would formally sit him down and explain why this behavior is inappropriate, not just for interacting with you, but interacting with any colleague. And explain why it’s unacceptable and how it’s perceived.

    1. Chameleon*

      Oooh, “freaking out” is a phrase that is like sandpaper on my back. My husband often accuses me of “freaking out” anytime I get angry, and it is just the most condescending, gaslighting, dismissive phrase ever. (He is getting better about it since I told him how much it bothers me).

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        I can relate to this! My partner’s go-to for the longest time whenever I got frustrated or angry with something was “calm down” (often along with “freaking out”), which only made me angrier. At one point this helped a small frustration escalate into a particularly heated argument, after which I asked him if he could please not say that for the same reasons you mentioned. He’s gotten much better about it since then.

        1. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Right? The phrase, “Calm down” generally has the opposite effect, at least in my experience.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            My little brother used to drive me to homicidal rage by saying “Caaaaaaaaallllmmm doooooowwwwwnnn” to me… only when he was out of reach, of course.

          2. nofelix*

            Yes, people who get angry their expectations aren’t met often react with further anger if asked to calm down, as if it’s the fault of the person who has ‘let them down’ rather than their own responsibility to remain professional. But really there’s nothing about saying “This deadline has been missed” that requires an angry delivery. It sounds as if the OP understands that.

      2. Julia*

        My parents and younger brother do that (not so much anymore since I moved out), and it always drove me nuts. My partner doesn’t ever invalidate my feelings, which is one of the reasons I wanted to marry him.

    2. F.*

      The time this type of thing happened to me, it was a female supervisor in my department (but not over me) who was withholding information I (the admin) needed in order to compile weekly reports for senior management to present to the board of directors (of a Fortune 100 company!). She tried to turn it around on me by telling our mutual manager that I was unreasonably demanding and was throwing a childish hissy fit. Fortunately, I had documented all of my very polite requests each week via email, and others had witnessed HER hissy fits toward me. I think it was more of a power play, as in “how dare that lowly Admin request that I provide her information by a deadline!”, never mind that it wasn’t MY deadline in the first place.

      OP, this colleague may be approaching this from the point of view that he is senior to you, has been there longer, or doesn’t have to “take orders” from you because you are not on the same team. While there may be an element of age and gender bias going on, there is probably more to it than that, especially if he treats others whom he perceives to be his “inferiors” the same patronizing way.

      1. Person on the Street*

        I think my response would be a flat “I have no issues with the deadline. If you think you are going to miss the deadline, you should speak with Boss.” This would get the ball back into his court no matter what his intentions are. I think I would treat all personal comments from him as if he just said he couldn’t meet the deadline and go from there. Maybe even “you keep implying that you are uncomfortable with the deadline” would do the trick.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      The further I read and think about this guy, the more I wish the Op could just say to him “stop patronizing me and just try to meet a deadline once in a while mkay”.
      But Alison’s lines are far more professional.

  8. Allison*

    To me, saying “don’t worry, I’ll get it done” isn’t so bad, but in the context of having to be chased down, it is a little tone deaf because you’ve given someone reason to worry.

    “it’s okay, it’s okay, I will help you get it sorted” is really annoying

    “Don’t get upset, I’ll do it.” would irk me as well, because it sounds like someone talking to me like I’m some fragile little girl.

    1. AMG*

      The ‘I’ll help you’ part really gets me. Because you aren’t ‘helping’ the OP. She doesn’t need help doing her job. You do.

      1. Alienor*

        Right? That made me grind my teeth just reading it. It reminds me of dudes who say they’re “babysitting” when they’re looking after their own kids.

      2. JessaB*

        If I got “I’ll help you,” I’d be “okay help me by giving me the x information that you were supposed to give me yesterday.”

  9. Amelia*

    I wonder if this co-worker is actually being slow in his responses or if OP is being a bit too aggressive in how soon she wants things. I know some people have the mentality that if something is not done in what they personally consider an appropriate amount of time, they get overly anxious or irritated when objectively the thing to be done isn’t necessarily a huge pressing issue. I think it’s at least possible that OP is making everything sound like an emergency when it’s perhaps not.

    1. fposte*

      She says he’s missing deadlines. Even if they’re deadlines she’s created and he isn’t meeting them because he has another priority, his response is inappropriate.

      1. Amelia*

        I agree that his tone and word choice aren’t correct. With that said, OP does not appear to be this person’s manager, just his co-worker so it’s not really her place to continually harass him over his deadlines. If he is causing her to miss her own actual deadlines then she should bring that up with her manager.

        1. fposte*

          It’s absolutely her place to follow up when she’s not getting stuff she needs. That’s SOP, not harassment.

          1. animaniactoo*


            The time to go to her manager/his manager is when he’s continually blowing deadlines and be clear about how much stress this is putting on her deadlines.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Alternately, we could take the OP at her word, rather than inventing ‘possible’ alternate scenarios in the interest of playing devil’s advocate.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        Right. If they were just the OP’s deadlines and she’s making it sound like an emergency, even his non-clear and inappropriate response would be more like “Whoa, calm down, it will get done.”

        If he were treating her like a peer, his language wouldn’t be referring to how she feels.

    2. Ell*

      I think its reasonable to assume that OP is setting workable and appropriate deadlines. If not, its still the responsibility of the coworker to speak up /at the time the deadline is set/ to say “I won’t be able to get it done by then because X and X are higher priorities. How does Y date sound instead?”

      Either way, the condescending tone is inappropriate. The appropriate response when one misses a deadline is to apologize profusely and give an updated timeline for when it will get done.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Agreed – I’m in HR and take care of a lot of the day-to-day stuff for 250 employees at 20+ different branches in three states, so I have managers asking for things with deadlines that seem reasonable to them, but since I’ve already got a dozen other things going on they’re going to have to wait a couple days. In those cases, I reply so that they know I’ve seen it, and let them know that I’m tied up on other projects but should have their thing back to them by [my estimated timeline] rather than their requested date. At that point, it becomes a negotiation – they might think it’s higher priority, or might have an actual reason to need bumped ahead of other requests, so they explain their case and we sort it out between us – but the onus is on me to open that negotiation by pushing back on unrealistic or aggressive deadlines. That’s what this guy should be doing, not being condescending and practically saying “Calm your tits” to the OP.

        1. JessaB*

          This. The proper response to a deadline you cannot actually meet for whatever reason is to explain this to the person setting the deadline and go from there.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Speaking of timelines, i would think there’s some sort of checks and balances in place where the Ops boss/management would know exactly who’s not meeting their deadlines. I know I rely on certain coworkers to get things over to me for some of my reports, and if they don’t I simply state very matter of factly, not throwing anyone under the bus, “I’m still waiting on Jon to get me the download numbers for last month, so I won’t have the tps report til tomorrow” of course every place is different, but the managers should be aware to some extent what’s going on and if not, there’s nothing wrong with her mentioning it something like “hey everything’s done except this piece I need from Joe”. But still put him in his place!

    3. Kyrielle*

      It’s also possible that he perceives it that way but OP actually does need the data. I’ve worked with people who were of the mind “well, it has to go out by COB Friday, so I can get the information to them by noon Friday and it will be fine” but then someone has to write the information up formally, format it, run it by someone for approval to send it, etc. So yes, the *final* deadline is one thing, but if the person doing the rest of the work is going to do a quality job and not have a last-minute rush, they need it a bit sooner than that, which is why they may have asked to have the information no later than COB Wednesday, giving them two days to do all that (and allowing for the fact that they have other must-do tasks that use up part of Friday afternoon, and…).

      It could be either one. Either way, though, his phrasing isn’t appropriate. In the circumstance you describe, a better response would be, “My understanding is that X happens at Y time. I am planning to work on this and get it to you by Z time; is there a reason that won’t work?”

      Accusing a coworker of being emotional in some way, unless they are actively blathering emotions all over you, isn’t a good response.

      1. Amelia*

        That’s a good point as well and I think OP should certainly be clear with her coworker about when she realistically needs the work.

        1. Kyrielle*

          But it sounds, per her letter, like she has been. And he is not providing it by then. And he is making it all about her feelings, not about her deadlines (that he didn’t meet, or provide a clear explanation of why he missed).

          1. OP*

            Thanks! This comment thread has definitely made me think that I could also stand to be clearer with my deadlines, and set clear expectations. (Although I definitely do set deadlines, but maybe not always backed up and as clear as they could be).

            We work together a lot on lots of short term tasks, so I definitely sometimes just send things across without a very clear deadline. (I had a really good relationship with the person in his role before him, and we worked together like a team , so I am not always in the mind set of ‘commissioning’ the work properly)

            1. Engineer Girl*

              You need to be very clear. You need to specifically state what you need, what format, and by when. Then you can provide info to whomever if you don’t get it.
              Also frame your emails like this:
              Hi Bubba, I need the inputs via the spreadsheet for my report. Can you get it to me by Friday 2 pm?
              He can negotiate, but once he’s agreed then hold him to it.

    4. my two cents*

      But even still, the faux-motional “support” from the colleague is unnecessary belittling and obnoxious. “It’s okay it’s okay don’t get upset” would make my blood boil regardless, but as a response to me following-up on something? That’s a big ol’ Nopeasaurus Rex. Coworker could just as easily replied with “I’ve got x and y to finish, and then I’ll get you z.”

        1. starsaphire*

          And that’s probably what he’s banking on; that she’ll eventually lose her cool, and then he’ll be “proven right” about how emotional (and therefore untrustworthy, immature, etc., etc.) she is, and why he shouldn’t have to take orders from her.

          The OP isn’t playing into his game, thankfully.

    5. Amelia*

      Totally agree with everyone about this tone and word choice. I just wonder if OP is being reasonable about the deadlines.

      1. esra*

        For me, that’s not really important. If he has an issue with the deadlines being unreasonable, he should just tell OP that.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes, this. It doesn’t matter if she’s not being reasonable (and we are supposed to trust the OP), because even if she’s not, the way he’s handling it is unacceptable.

      2. Mimi*

        Whether the OP is setting reasonable deadlines is beside the point, and continuing to bring it up derails the discussion about the actual problem – which you agree is his tone and word choice. He is responding to her inappropriately, full stop. Whether and what the OP might be doing/saying that could contribute to his missing deadlines is irrelevant, and does not diminish the inappropriateness of his responses to her. This isn’t a math equation where her wrongness has impact on his wrongness. He is wrong. He needs to stop.

      3. Reality Bites*

        Is there anything in the letter to indicate to you that she is not? Or are you just trying to invent a reason to let this guy off the hook for some reason?

      4. Sadsack*

        What’s to wonder about? That doesn’t even matter. The issue here is his being a condescending jerk, not the thing he is responding to.

      5. Engineer Girl*

        If he’s agreed to the deadlines then that’s that. He makes a promise, he needs to deliver.

    6. Michele*

      I think it’s his/her response back that’s the main issue. He/she is making the OP sound like she’s being anxious, when in reality, she has a deadline to meet.

  10. A Bug!*

    Maybe he’d be able to get to his work on a more timely basis if he weren’t spending time personally visiting coworkers’ desks to tell them he’s going to get his work done.

  11. Anonymous Educator*

    I like Alison’s advice. If it doesn’t work, though, is that an appropriate time to speak with his manager? Or to have your manager speak with his manager?

    I’ve had situations similar to this in the past (not exactly with all the condescension), but if it’s affecting my work, that’s my manager’s problem, and if it’s someone in another department, that’s that person’s manager’s problem, so I’ve often had my boss talk to that person’s boss, and that helps.

    1. Argh!*

      Yup. We shouldn’t have to try different wordings or timings or deadlines to get cooperation from a colleague. Obviously this person could care less about OP’s requests, so supervisors need to intervene.

  12. finman*

    If you aren’t asking for information by a set deadline, start setting those deadlines with an out of “if this is unreasonable for any reason please let me know now so we can reassess…”, if he starts missing those deadlines start ccing his manager. I did something similar when I would need inputs from 5-6 groups in order to finalize my business cases. When people started having their managers cced on the initial request and follow-ups when missing their deadlines magically the work began coming in on time/early. If this doesn’t work, start ccing your manager to get their help resolving this issue.

    1. RVA Cat*

      What may need to happen is for their managers to decide on what is a reasonable turnaround time based on the OP’s and Fergus’s workloads and priorities. Fergus’s attitude is a definite problem, but it sounds like maybe these departments are too stuck in their silos to collaborate effectively, in which case I’m sure it’s impacting lots of other things besides the info the OP needs.

        1. JessaB*

          Especially if it really IS a problem of the deadline screwing up Fergus’ schedule then that’s what should be said. “Can’t do that because of a, b, c. How can we work this out so it doesn’t tank your work?” Not all that gaslighting whinging.

      1. Clewgarnet*

        Except OP has said she collaborated perfectly happily with Fergus’ predecessor. It wasn’t until Fergus came on the scene that the problems started.

    2. Important Moi*

      I don’t like doing that. It feels like tattling to me. Even getting the responses make me more angry, because I feel like they fine dismissing me, but now that their boss is involved they can do something. It is disrespectful.

      1. esra*

        I’ve used this technique as a last resort. I don’t really believe tattling is a thing in the workplace, and while it’s annoying they need their boss involved to get things done… Things are at least done. So it achieved my objective during a crunch time.

        1. Person on the Street*

          Yeah. It’s not your fault if they need their boss to be involved for them to get their work done on time.

      2. neverjaunty*

        It’s not “tattling” to involve your boss when a co-worker is not doing their job, it impacts you, and your attempts to work it out with them have failed.

        1. finman*

          This point is why I have given people 3-4 chances to meet the deadlines that are requested. To me tattling is mentioning to the other person’s boss that they are leaving early, goofing around, etc. This is raising an issue with the person who should help correct the issue if the other employee is not responding. If the other person’s manager doesn’t know about continued deadline misses, they can’t resolve the issue.

      3. Jadelyn*

        It’s not tattling; it’s insurance. And nobody is saying that should be a first resort for all cases, but it’s a technique to keep in your toolbox for difficult cases and recalcitrant coworkers.

    3. Argh!*

      Yep, if you don’t tell someone what you want you can’t complain about not getting it.

      I wouldn’t cc: the manager because that’s kind of passive-aggressive. I would just talk to my manager about how this is impacting my work and ask for help.

      1. Purple Jello*

        I’ve worked with managers who wanted to be cc:-ed when sending work to their staff Every Time, and others who only want to hear from me if there was a problem.

        My suggestion is to be clear as to when you require the information from your colleague.

      2. Christopher Tracy*

        I wouldn’t cc: the manager because that’s kind of passive-aggressive.

        It’s only passive-aggressive if you’re using it as a first step as opposed to following-up yourself. Every place I’ve worked that was deadline driven has encouraged us to cc in our boss if someone wasn’t responding to our requests that way boss knows what’s going on, and if we still don’t get a response, then boss can step in.

        1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

          And sometimes ccing the boss is the best thing that can happen..

          Someone from our partner company was really upset with me for telling him I won’t be able to meet his deadline. He got really angry when I told him that I couldn’t because I had other higher priority stuff on my desk. He said he would let my boss know that I am not helping him. He thought he could threaten my with this sentence. With the biggest simple in my voice I told him to please go ahead and let boss know. It was the best thing. Of course boss answered the email and asked me why I couldn’t meet the deadline. I told him I could but only if I put one of the high priority things on hold. And I asked him to please advise how to proceed. With the other guy in cc I finally got my boss to a realize that my work load was crazy and b he was finally forced to proritaize things for me. Which I ve been asking him to do for weeks! Oh and an add on plus was that I was right in my assessment of the request from our partner company. They had to accept my deadline. Win for me (for once)

  13. Rat Racer*

    This is why I have a pet peeve when people say “no worries” even though I know they just mean “no problem.” It irks me because it implies that I am fretting plus it sounds infantalizing like “say bye-bye to your worry-boo-boos.”

    To anyone who says “no worries” please know that I may be the only person with this exotic pet in her zoo of peeves.

    But the stigma women carry for fretting, nagging and worrying is stupid and unfair.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Huh! I always thought the person saying “no worries” was referring to themselves, i.e. “this is totally not an unreasonable request and you aren’t making me worry at all.”

      1. Rat Racer*

        That is a much better way to think about it! I will try to get my peevish brain to think of it that way the next time someone says “no worries” to me.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          I say “no worries” so much that my coworkers occasionally imitate me, and I don’t blame them!

          When I say it, I mean, “Negative Perspiration”, “no sweat”, “no problem”, etc. It’s just to let them know there is no friction or problem with what they’re asking, and we can resolve it peacefully, with no damage, collateral or otherwise.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        FWIW, I can’t speak for others, but that is always how I mean it when I say it. Very much a shorthand way of saying “no problems have been created here and I do not feel annoyed or worried in the slightest by this.”

      3. Allison*

        Right, or if someone makes a mistake and apologizes, I might say some form of “no worries” to assure them it’s not a big deal. But I hate when people tell me not to worry, while doing things that make me worry. Like if someone’s making me late for something, and telling me to stop worrying about being late.

      4. Random Citizen*

        Yes! This is always what I mean by it, although I think I use it more if someone is apologizing for inconveniencing me. Along the lines of, “Ack, you haven’t troubled me a bit.”

        _To anyone who says “no worries” please know that I may be the only person with this exotic pet in her zoo of peeves. _

        This is awesome.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      It depends on the context.

      If you’re asking a favor of them, and they do the favor and then say “No worries,” that means “I’m more than happy to help you out. Don’t worry that you’re bothering me.”

      If, however, you’re asking them a favor, and they don’t do the favor and say “No worries,” that means “I’m a jerk and think there’s nothing to worry about, because I’m not worried about it, even though you are.”

      1. Random Citizen*

        Or I guess I use it sometimes when someone thinks they’ve inconvenienced me and apologize to mean something like, “Ah, don’t mention it” or “Don’t worry about it, didn’t bother me a bit.”

    3. anonderella*

      interesting – I always thought it applied pretty much equally to both parties. Like, I’m not worried, and neither should you be.
      I do think it is a bad choice of words to say to someone who is worried, though

    4. Chickaletta*

      I never thought of it like this. I picked up the phrase when I was in Australia, where I think it’s a lot more common, but never considered how it might come across to Americans.

    5. Salyan*

      I hate that too. Obviously I am worried about it (or I wouldn’t be bothering them for an answer!), and their choice to respond with that phrase instead of the actual status of (whatever) only serves to reassure me that they either don’t care/don’t think it’s important/haven’t started and I in fact have a very good reason to be worried!

  14. Mark in Cali*

    I have to side with the OP’s coworker here. As a program manager myself (I don’t know what OP’s role is), I’m often relying on people busier and more skilled than I am for many things. Because I’m spinning many plates but not actually doing a lot of the work I try to be very sensitive to asking engineers (who tend to be low key folks like the OP seems to describe) and other very busy people for updates when it’s really not that important or urgent. I see many other program managers around me bringing fires to busy people when they are truly things that can wait, so I wonder if the OP might reevaluate the need for what updates he or she needs and when they are needed.

    1. esra*

      Do you agree with the way he’s handling it? I’m someone who is frequently pulled in many directions with competing BUs, projects, and priorities. If someone gives me a deadline that isn’t reasonable or a project that isn’t as urgent as others I’m working on, I let them know that in an informative and professional way. No matter how busy I am, it doesn’t justify me being a jerk to my coworkers.

    2. my two cents*

      The coworker’s tone is awful and inappropriate. He could just as easily said something like”I’ve got a, b, c, d, and e ahead of f. I’ll get it to you after that.” and leave the emotional garbage out completely.

    3. ElectricTeapots*

      The issue is not that the coworker is busy, it’s that “don’t worry” is not an informative or cooperative reply. It would be much more helpful if he said “I’m working on Y now, because that needs to get done by Friday to ship on time, but I’m planning to have X to you by Monday afternoon” or some other brief explanation. “Don’t worry” and a vague promise of getting something done would not allay OP’s fears if she were actually worried about it getting done, and it does come across as condescending, which is not justified no matter how busy the coworker is.

      1. Allison*

        Right. If someone is asked for information and instead goes “don’t worry about it,” they might as well say “I’ve decided you don’t need that information right now” and/or “it’s none of your business.”

    4. Anonymous Educator*

      I think you’re projecting a bit here. You aren’t the person’s co-worker. There isn’t anything in the letter that indicates the co-worker is overwhelmed or that the OP is presenting a fire to be put out (i.e., a last-minute emergency). She depends on him for information in order to do her job. And he’s slow getting the information to her. If he’s truly overwhelmed, the proper response isn’t “Don’t worry about it. I’ll get it done.” The proper response is “Shoot. I have X, Y, and Z to do. I’m hoping I can get yours done by such-and-such time. Will that work for you?”

      1. Rat Racer*

        Yeah, from the context of the letter, I think the inference about lighting unnecessary fires is a stretch. I will say though that I love and appreciate project managers who (a) don’t yell “FIRE FIRE” every time an executive asks for a kleenex, and (b) take the time to figure out that the executive actually meant “Excel file” not “kleenex.”

        At an old job, a colleague of mine was accused of “project managing off a cliff,” and I think that’s an apt metaphor.

        NONE of this applies to the OP’s letter, by the way.

        1. Ignis Invictus*

          Holy flaming hell. That was awesome. I’ll be quoting you at some point in my career because that was perfect.

      2. Mark in Cali*

        Of course I’m projecting here. I’m projected based on my experience of people creating fires when there are none. Of course writing into this blog you can paint yourself as a reasonable coworker and the other person is being unreasonable and rude, but just as much as I don’t know the OP is creating fires, you don’t know that the OP isn’t.

        I just tend to see in my day to day life and work that the people in charge of getting the updates are rarely doing the actual hands on work and focusing on the strategy and putting pressure on the people who are getting their “hands dirty.” So all I’m suggesting is maybe that the OP needs to reevaluate their tone and frequency and need for updates.

        Again this is all my hunch based on my experience, but I’ve learned that no matter how much I reiterate that on these comments, people will still accuse me of only seeing when side (and I’m sure I’ll get comments about that comment too).

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          The OP could be a total liar or could be conveniently leaving out parts of the narrative that paint her in a bad light. We don’t know. All we know is what’s in the letter to Alison.

          What you’re doing is imagining an entire fan fic version of events that has no basis at all in what’s in the letter. Does what happened to you happen all the time? Sure. Do we have any evidence that it’s linked in any way to the OP’s situation? Zero.

          You can hunch all you want, but unless you know the OP personally or the OP’s co-worker personally, all your hunching does is gaslight the OP. No need for that.

          1. Mark in Cali*

            Exactly. So I said my piece but everyone here wants to remind me that my opinion is my opinion. Talk about “gaslighting.” I can begin see why this coworker might have told the OP to relax if the comments on this blog reflect the typical workplace.

            1. Ultraviolet*

              I think people are actually saying that your opinion is not helpful in this case. In fact it’s actively harmful, since it’s really discouraging to potential letter writers if there are comments focused not on the problem they actually presented, but on one they didn’t foresee the need to prove they weren’t causing. The letter writer says she needs information from her coworker to do her job and sometimes doesn’t get it at the agreed-upon time. That scenario is nowhere near unlikely enough that it benefits the discussion to speculate that something else might be going on. We could fill a million comment sections discussing possibilities that aren’t entirely precluded by the words in the letter, but it would be pointless and kind of insulting to the OP.

          2. Random Citizen*

            And since we only have one side of the story here, Alison has asked that we give OPs the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re telling the truth unless we have evidence that show otherwise.

        2. Tex*

          But her first line is “I have a colleague on another team who I rely on for information, etc. to complete projects….”

          It doesn’t sound like its a status update situation. Then again, maybe I’m projecting my day to day life which is if I don’t get information from 3 other disciplines, I have a choice to either twiddle my fingers and then scramble at the last minute or take a big leap of faith in a certain direction and do the work, undo it when the info comes in and then re-work it again. And, no, these aren’t plug and play numbers on excel sheets; it’s usually 2 weeks of solid work.

        3. Observer*

          The reason that people are saying this is because even if you are correct, it’s utterly irrelevant. There is a right way to handle people who bring you fires of their own lighting and a wrong way.

          What the OP describes is THE WRONG WAY by a mile, at least. There is simply no way to excuse that kind of response. I say this as someone who deals with these kinds of fires all the time.

          Which brings me to the other thing I’ve seen. The people who tend to do this generally do not say “I’m not upset, I just need the information.” Quite the reverse. They are the people most likely to say “I’m really upset about this.”

          Given the fact that the OP specifically mentions that this person has missed numerous deadlines AND the inappropriateness of his response in any case, it’s a real stretch to decide that the OP is creating the problem, or that a change in timelines is going to change anything.

        4. Ignis Invictus*

          I get where you’re coming from. I’ll never forget the director who, in an all hands meeting (major topic was ensuring his team knew they not only could but should come to him for assistance removing roadblocks) added this anecdote about a program he had spearheaded “I don’t need 4 program managers at my desk telling me I’m late, I KNOW I’m late”. I don’t remember his wording for the rest of the anecdote, the gist was, if they couldn’t, or wouldn’t remove roadblocks, then get the hell out of his way because the constant updates were putting the program further in the weeds.

          It is possible that the situation is different from the one OP perceives. Personally I suspect Fergus is a condescending prick, but in the event that he’s not I’d approach the situation thusly: have a chat with his boss. Start by asking for his help, then describe the chasing for updates situation, admit that the interruptions don’t help, suggest Fergus provide a weekly status update, and ask for bosses input and buy in. Boss enforces the update assignment. The updates could be a weekly written status update, or, a 30 minute weekly meeting. Whichever format requires the following information from Fergus a) task b) estimated completion date c) know roadblocks “upstream” / overall workload d) The known risks to not meeting the task deadline.

    5. The Butcher of Luverne*

      Telling someone “don’t worry” is not helpful and not quantitative.

      “I will get you the info by 1 pm” is helpful. Better still, actually sending it to meet the deadline is the best response when you have a commitment to provide work to a coworker.

    6. neverjaunty*

      Since what you describe is nothing like what the OP describes, why do you “have to side with the OP’s coworker here”?

    7. Argh!*

      A better response would be “I got sidetracked by these other fires, but I haven’t forgotten your project and I’m on track to get it done by the deadline.”

      “Don’t worry, it’ll get done” sounds defensive and it’s vague.

  15. Jaguar*

    Is this a gender issue?

    I’m a guy and I’ll use that language with another guy without hesitation. I would think twice about using it with a woman, which seems like it could be sexist, but then there are comments like this that make it seem like I really _should_ be treating women differently?

    (I should mention that if I say something like, “don’t worry, it will get done,” I make sure I do it, so it’s a bit of a different issue. But I should also mention that I’ve worked with a lot of other men who say “don’t worry, it will get done” and then it doesn’t get done and neither I nor anyone else has thought manipulation was at play.)

    1. fposte*

      No, it just means you’ve been talking in a way you shouldn’t to men :-). If it’s not done when expected, tell them when it will be done; don’t worry about the emotions, just provide the information. If the initial expectation isn’t likely to be fulfilled, say so: “I’ve got higher-stakes stuff to get to first so Thursday isn’t going to happen, but I can do Friday.”

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, I don’t think this is an appropriate way to address co-workers’ concerns, regardless of what gender they are / you are.

      2. AnonAnalyst*

        This is where I come down. Reading through the comments, I’ve been trying to think back on my own workplace interactions, and I honestly can’t recall any situations where I’ve said “don’t worry” or “calm down.” And that includes a number of high-pressure situations where coworkers were clearly stressed, so it’s not that I just haven’t observed any of my coworkers in a “worried” state.

        I’ll also add that if I were the coworker concerned about meeting the deadline, saying “don’t worry, it will get done” is a lot less convincing than saying “I will have it to you by EOD Friday.”

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          I honestly can’t recall any situations where I’ve said “don’t worry”

          Yes, this. The only situations I can think of are when a coworker was obviously stressing out about something she had on her plate. “Event X is only a week away, and I still need to do A, B, and C!” “But you’ve already done D, E, and F. Don’t worry too much about it – you always run amazing events, and if you need to you can cut corners on B without anyone noticing.”

        2. Nerdling*

          I’ve never said it in the sense of telling someone to whom I owe a deliverable not to worry. I have said it to new trainers who were worried about their presentations – “Don’t worry. You’ve done everything you can to prepare for this. You are going to do a great job.” One is dismissive, while the other is meant to be reassuring.

    2. animaniactoo*

      Are you saying that at a point where you’ve already blown the deadline? Because from my read, that’s when the OP is hearing it.

      1. Jaguar*

        I rarely say it. I don’t put a lot of emotional context into it, but thinking back, when I say it, it’s usually in the context of when I’m being tasked with something and am being asked if I can complete it in time, at which point, if I feel I can, I sometimes say something like that.

        But if the message is, “nobody should say these things,” then it isn’t a gendered issue.

        1. esra*

          It’s gendered not because no one should say them, but because they are much more frequently said to women. Who are much more frequently called ’emotional’.

        2. my two cents*

          It’s a gendered issue because you wouldn’t try to ‘soothe’ your male colleague with “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’ll get done”. It IS entirely possible that he treats EVERYONE like this, in which case he’s just a jackass instead of a sexist jackass.

        3. animaniactoo*

          If you’re saying in response to checking on an upcoming deadline, I don’t think there’s an issue with that as an “on-track” response. The problem is with it as an “off-track” response, as it indicates that somebody else is basically silly for caring about an overdue deadline.

        4. Althea*

          I don’t think that’s accurate. Nobody should say it, but that doesn’t mean they are said to both men and women in the workplace in equal proportion. I doubt there is data on this specific type of language, but I could see these phrases directed more often to women because women are seen as “emotional.” If so, that would make it gendered.

        5. themmases*

          No. Something doesn’t need to only ever be said to women 100% of the time, or only be rude when said to women, to be sexist. It could also be part of a pattern of behavior primarily experienced by women, or that insults someone based supposedly feminine traits such as being emotional.

          1. Jaguar*

            This sounds so much to me like, “if you’re gender A, treat your gender A coworkers unhesitantly and treat your gender B coworkers cautiously.” Which is what I wind up doing.

            1. Althea*

              Not really. Refrain from being condescending to both genders, and there is no problem. You might want to stop doing it to the men you mentioned saying these things to, because it probably doesn’t sound good to them.

            2. orchidsandtea*

              The difference is, in general if you’re saying “don’t get emotional, I’ll get it done” to a man, it’s a pretty clear implication that he personally is overly-emotional in the workplace—and chances are, either he’s legitimately overly-emotional (but you still can’t respond like that), or you’re trying to manipulate him into shutting up (not OK).

              But if you say it to a woman, the implication is that she’s overly-emotional because women in general are overly-emotional. There’s a whole cultural schtick around women being “too emotional”—you see it in old movies and comedy routines all the time. It’s not as visible now, it’s subtler than it was in decades past, but it’s still a problem. There isn’t that kind of schtick, with men. So with men it comes across like a targeted insult, where with women it comes across like you’re being patronizing because she’s female.

              1. animaniactoo*

                But I think what he’s saying is “Don’t worry, (i.e. no need to raise a red flag on this) I’ve got it covered” in a confident-in-himself and situationally appropriate way, not “Don’t stress about it you poor little thing” or some other dismissive “you’re a worrywart” tone. I think it’s important to distinguish that (Jaguar – confirmation?), because one is imo actually fine and not really implying anything.

                1. Random Citizen*

                  Yeah, that was what I got out of it – an “I’ve got it covered” when he does, in fact, have it covered.

                2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

                  I do think it’s a bit different if it’s in response to an initial request vs. after a deadline has already passed.

                  “Hey, Apollo, I just realized we need 100 chairs and a mic stand for the meeting tomorrow morning.” “Don’t worry, I’m on it!”

                  vs. “Apollo, we were supposed to mail the teapot prototype to the client this morning, but I haven’t received your handle yet.” “Don’t worry, I’ll do it!” (…but you were supposed to have done it already…)

            3. Kate M*

              But if your ingrained instinct is to have different responses to men and women (and it can be subconscious), then you DO need to treat some cautiously. For instance, if a man is telling you you missed a deadline and your immediate response is to say “I’m sorry, I promise to have it to you by COB”, but when a woman tells you the same thing you say “Don’t be upset! I promise to have it to you by COB,” there is a difference there. In one, you’re taking responsibility, in the other, you’re putting the onus back on the person asking and trying to regulate their “feelings” (the man may have been just as upset, but it’s less likely someone will call a man out on his emotions).

              Most people raised in our society do have some ingrained and taught reflexes/preconceived notions/stereotypes they fall back on, so reevaluating yourself is not necessarily a bad thing.

          1. Jaguar*

            It has happened, both where I’ve said it to other men and other men have said it to me. Maybe not that exact phrasing, but that exact message.

            I agree nobody should ever say it. What I’m wondering is, is it significantly less acceptable to say it to women? What about, is it significantly less acceptable to say it to a woman if you’re a man than it is if you’re a woman?

            1. animaniactoo*

              Because of the history of how women have been treated in the workplace, it’s likely to come across worse to a woman and you should be very aware of that.

              1. Althea*

                I disagree. If the delivery is condescending/patronizing, then it is for both genders. Some people will be offended, some won’t care, but it doesn’t change the message coming from the speaker.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  But communication isn’t about the message from the speaker alone. If someone steps on your foot, then says “But I didn’t mean to!”, does that make your foot less stepped-on? Intent forms *one* piece of interpersonal communication, and doesn’t cancel out social context, history, relative position of the speakers, and all the other things that affect communications.

                  It is condescending no matter who it’s said to, but it is *worse* when coming from a man and directed at a woman, because of all the social factors that affect communication and perception.

                2. Althea*

                  Jadelyn, I think we are saying something similar. If I step on your foot, you might yell “Ouch” or you might barely notice, but either way I shouldn’t stand on your foot. I don’t think the act of stepping becomes worse because your foot is more sensitive than someone else’s.

                  Putting it back in this context, I don’t think condescending language is worse due to the history of the person receiving the message. That’s what makes microagression pernicious. The offending language is only a tiny bit offensive. It’s the weight of all the past aggression that makes it feel different. But the “current” microagression is micro in nature.

            2. Jadelyn*

              Gender is a factor here because remember, you are not the only man any given woman has interacted with in the workplace. If you say “calm down” to a female coworker, it adds on to an already-existing history of being talked down to, disrespected, gaslighted, etc. and because of the cultural connotations, it carries a different message than if you say it to a man who doesn’t have that same history.

              And personally, I do find it more objectionable for a man to say to a woman than for a woman to say to another woman, because there’s a power differential involved in one case but not the other (assuming the two women are the same race, because that’s a whole other factor that can complicate this). Women can talk down to and condescend to one another, but it lacks the same social weight and cultural history than when a man talks down to or condescends to a woman.

              1. Jaguar*

                I totally understand all that. As I said, I would freely say something like “relax” to a guy and wouldn’t to a girl. And I’m sure there are guys that would get irritated or feel belittled by being told to relax.

                But when I hear stuff like “you are not the only man any given woman has interacted with in the workplace,” that sounds so much like “woman have baggage.” I instinctively want to reject it on that basis, and I’m wondering if I should. Or if there’s a new perspective someone can share with me where those two statements don’t sound equivalent.

                1. LizB*

                  When you say “women have baggage,” you’re making it about the women and their terrible baggage, aren’t they so messed up? You’re taking the cause of that “baggage” out of consideration entirely, and making it sound like women’s reactions just spring up out of nowhere.

                  When you say “you are not the only man any given woman has interacted with in the workplace,” you’re making it about the men who have interacted with this woman previously, who have been disrespectful or condescending or belittling, and who are the reason said woman might react very negatively to what you’re about to say to her.

                  “Women have baggage” = something is wrong with this woman. “Women interact with rude men in the workplace very frequently” = something is wrong with the behavior of those men.

                2. Althea*

                  You know, I think you are getting more than one message here.

                  On the one hand, it’s best not to use language that is condescending to anyone.

                  On the other hand, women’s collective history of being saddled with labels like “emotional” makes them more likely to be offended by the same language.

                  Personally I am concerned that you treat the genders differently. I think you should treat everyone the same. If you see people getting upset, change the behavior with everyone, because I’ll bet there are people of both genders bothered by it, but only the most offended will ever say anything.

                  It sounds like some people on here feel differently. I don’t personally want to be treated like a delicate flower who can’t handle things. I want to feel I’m treated with equal respect. That means both “equal” and “respect” though. We’re caught in a trap of “what about equal and disrespectful?”

                3. Murphy*

                  I think the thing that’s important to note is that women often (not always, but often) experience the workplace in a different way than you do. So while you say that it sounds like “women have baggage” I’d argue that it is more “women have been historically deemed weak, flighty, emotional, and not cut-out for the big bad world of professional work and that has impacted their ability to receive proper support for their work, recognition for their accomplishments, and promotion and pay for their value.”

                  It’s not about women having baggage but about how words matter and infantalizing and patronizing someone, anyone is never ok, has a deeper historical context when applied to women and has often been the a contributing factor in why women have had fewer opportunities to advance and succeed.

                4. Jadelyn*

                  The thing is, we do “have baggage”, so to speak. Literally everyone has baggage, in the strictest sense of the term. But women, people of color, queer people, disabled people, etc. all have *extra* baggage from their treatment by society over the years, so when you interact with someone who’s disprivileged compared to you, you have a choice to make: do you become yet one more microaggression adding to that baggage? Or do you make an effort to remember that they’re carrying heavier luggage than you are, and try not to add to it?

                  (Also, everything LizB said. Thank you.)

                5. Jaguar*

                  Yeah. It’s pretty clear to me, through this thread, that in the case of feeling free to treat men one way bot not feeling free to treat women that way, the ethical thing to do is to stop treating men that way.

                  But, I’ll freely cop to my own shittiness here, since I think it provides a good perspective: I’m not going to. I enjoy interacting more cavalier with men than I do with women, and I suspect a lot of other men do too. I’m certainly going to be more aware of it, and probably feel more guilt now that I have a better perspective on it, but if I’m being entirely truthful about how I’m probably going to act in the future, it won’t be to start treating other men more respectfully.

                6. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  It’s not that *women* have baggage. It’s that *society* has baggage *about women.*

                  I’m the resident humorless feminist here, so take this with whatever amount of salt you want, but I’m unconvinced that you’re open to changing your perspective here. There are two reasons I’m getting that vibe: 1) You’re rejecting the various responses you’re getting (from women, or at least commenters with feminine-sounding names) pretty quickly, and you keep asking for more information. That’s a pretty common derailing technique. 2) You just used the word “girl,” which makes me instantly suspicious that you’re generally treating the women in your professional life in the same way that you treat the men in your professional life.

                  You are welcome to respond here, but you needn’t. I’m just articulating my reaction in the hopes that you will reflect on it.

                7. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  Whoa, and I didn’t see your last comment (about owning your own shittiness) before I made mine.

                  YIKES. Deciding to just let sexist, unequal, harmful social standards continue because you enjoy it? That is indeed super shitty. When men treat other men with more openness (or however you’re defining “cavalierly”), they/you build more meaningful, effective relationships with men than you do with women. Because men (more often) are in positions of greater authority, power, leadership, visibility, etc., your decision to treat men differently than women has real, tangible, quantifiable effects on the women in your life. Like, jobs not offered, raises not given, projects not led. Big, bad deals.

                  So please don’t. Your enjoyment of relaxed time with the dudes at work (which I get is something real you’d be giving up) isn’t worth literally perpetuating the discrimination and resulting suffering women face.

                8. Althea*

                  “I enjoy interacting more cavalier with men than I do with women, and I suspect a lot of other men do too.”

                  Huh. I hope you work with people who have an equal disregard for you and your feelings.

                  How is it that you agree that being condescending is bad, even toward men, but then decide to do it anyway? Now some of your male colleagues will feel patronized, your women colleagues will notice you don’t treat them equally, and basically everyone is unhappy. Except for you. Way to make your work environment a nice place to be.

                9. Jaguar*

                  I think you’re taking an overly mathematical approach to human interaction. There may be some scorched earth I’ve been leaving in my wake everywhere, but I don’t think I’ve ever angered, irritated, offended, or otherwise put out any of my male coworkers (or female, for that matter – although I do often wonder if and pre-emptively feel guilty and awful about excluding or isolating female employees by not acting as casual with them), and with the exception of particularly shy or introverted coworkers, I’m typically more inhibited and held back than my male coworkers – which is to say, I typically rise to their level of openness rather than start smashing through social conventions myself.

                  The point being, I treat male coworkers and am treated by male coworkers (and I’ve worked in environments where people have high-school-dropout levels of education and where people hold Masters and PhDs) exactly the way people here say men should never treat female employees. Fine. I can even understand and agree that men probably shouldn’t (and I would again like to point out that the way female coworkers interact with one another is often significantly more cavalier and unconcerned than the way female coworkers interact with male coworkers). But there are also men I’ve seen that take the principled stand Victoria recommends and that works out about as well for them as you might expect.

                  I would love to be and want to be an ally in female inclusiveness in the workplace that is both equal in treatment of them while simultaneously respectful of the numerous challenges they face as a result of the way the workplace has historically and currently been stacked against them. However, if the price to be paid is the ascetic misery that Victoria lays out, forget it.

                10. Jaguar*

                  Re-reading that, it wasn’t nearly as clear on the central point I was trying to make, which is:

                  I don’t think men take offense to this sort of thing, or do so quite rarely. And moreover, as Victoria points out, it’s actually a big way men bond when working together (or in general). Maybe there is this deep sea of male anguish as it relates to how they are emotionally taxed by their male coworkers, but you never hear about it, so we’re left to speculate on whether or not it exists. I’m not going to be colder with people on the basis of something that may not exist.

    3. Kristine*

      The phrasing that OP’s coworker uses (“Don’t worry, it will all get done.” etc) is kinda patronizing. I would be irked if anyone of either gender used that type of language with me. When paired with the condescending tone that OP’s coworker apparently uses then it’s even more annoying, and I think that’s what pushes it towards the possibility of being a gender issue. Not necessarily the language on its own.

      But what it boils down to is that you shouldn’t have to tell me “Don’t worry”. I should never have to worry because I should be able to trust you to do your job and do it on time.

    4. themmases*

      Mostly, yeah. This particular form of rudeness isn’t always spoken by men to women, but it usually is and its invocation of gender stereotypes (that the person is being pushy and overly emotional) is what makes it rude.

      It’s inappropriate to tell people at work how they’re feeling or should feel. That goes double if you’re late with something or a problem is your fault, as it is the coworker’s fault in this letter. In that situation the late persion should be apologizing and explaining what action they’re taking, not putting the focus on the other person and implying that they are being inappropriate somehow. And this coworker isn’t just saying “don’t worry”, which is a common and sometimes almost meaningless phrase. He’s saying things like “don’t get upset”, as if the OP is very emotional, and “I will help you get it sorted”, as if the OP messed something up. But she didn’t, he did.

      There are innocuous ways to tell someone not to worry, like if they tell you they’re worried and you know they needn’t be. But you definitely shouldn’t be saying it to people when you messed up, regardless of gender.

      1. Jaguar*

        It’s inappropriate, sure. But, I’ve worked with people like the OP describes and, while I fully acknowledge that this guy may be trying to belittle her because she’s a woman or is taking a very sexist attitude towards female employees, the ones I’ve worked with generally have been people that struggle with their workload and feel guilty about it and wind up saying those sorts of things in a misguided way to diffuse the situation. Which is to say, they aren’t being actively or passively toxic to gender issues, they’re just not handling stress well. If that’s the case, I think this falls into the area of “in a perfect world nobody should do this but it’s not bad enough that I need to start making it a big thing.” I think OP can start with a much tamer, “I know you’re trying to handle a lot here, but could you not say things like ‘don’t worry’? Because it kinda sets me on edge.”

        1. Aurion*

          I disagree strongly. That makes the focus even more on the OP’s feelings (“sets me on edge”) than the fact that the coworker has blown deliverables–or at least, make it harder for OP to do her job.

          If you were my coworker, I may be slightly irritated at your phrasing, but I will give you a pass because you are saying it in the context of a status update and your deliverables aren’t blown. But the OP’s coworker is waving off her follow-up while behind. She’s dodging the question. And I would be so done with trying to mollify her stressful feelings than I am about actually getting the task done.

          1. Nina*

            Yeah, the last thing the OP needs to bring up are feelings. It will just validate the guy and he’ll think he was right: that the OP is overreacting and overemotional.

            The guy is already running behind. When he starts the “Don’t worry, I’ll get it done” OP can counter with “Well, I need this by (x) today. When can I expect it from you?”

          2. Jaguar*

            Right. But putting myself in that situation, I would be saying that assuming my coworker was using that language because they’re flustered or in some way not handling the situation perfectly, and phrasing it as asking for a favour instead of stopping bad behavior makes it easier for the coworker to stop without feeling like they’ve been awful in some way, even if they have.

            For instance, I have this friend who beats himself up because, when he runs into someone on the street or is in the way of someone coming through a door or whatever, he’ll instantly apologise even if the other person was at fault. He thinks people are taking advantage of him, but to me he’s clearly just being a nice, courteous person.

            So much of the language on here is about figuring out who is at fault and placing blame. Much less of it seems like finding situations to problems that result in the best outcome. OP still has to work with this person, and OP doesn’t sound like they enjoy confrontation. Why does the advice have to be “this guy is entirely in the wrong”? Who does that help?

            1. neverjaunty*

              What ‘results in the best outcome’ is for OP to follow the advice given by AAM and others – that is, to refuse the co-worker’s bait about her emotions, and to refocus the discussion on his blowing deadlines and needing to get OP certain things.

              I don’t understand why you keep trying to reframe this in terms of gosh, maybe he’s just a good guy who means well.

              1. Jaguar*

                I’m approaching this from my own perspective, which is that this isn’t obviously sexist. I might be wrong, which is why I posed the question to the community. I haven’t been convinced so far, but it’s given me a lot to think about and maybe I’ll agree in a few days?

                Why is “maybe he means well” a bad objection?

                1. BuildMeUp*

                  Something doesn’t need to be obviously or overtly sexist in order to be a problem, though. That’s why microaggressions are such an issue – because they’re persistent and a major part of the problem, but it’s easy for people to excuse them away.

                  Maybe he does mean well. Maybe he doesn’t have bad intentions at all. But his intention doesn’t really matter here; he’s still being condescending and focusing on the OP’s emotions instead of fixing the actual issue. If someone’s standing on your foot, it doesn’t matter if they don’t realize they’re doing it – you still need them to move.

                2. fposte*

                  Your spelling of “favour” suggests that there might be some national difference here as well, which may contribute.

                  However, there are a few problems. One is the cultural one–there’s a long history of women’s reports of men’s poor behavior getting dismissed as “he means well,” so it has the weight of a thousand hearings of “I’m on his side and you’re screwed” behind it.

                  Second, it doesn’t actually matter that much. I agree that he might not be doing it to be manipulative–but he still needs to stop doing it. It’s not how you deal with a reminder that your promised work hasn’t been delivered. The OP’s not being advised to punish him, just to respond in a way that makes it clear the information is what’s important, not the emotion. That works whether his intention is good or evil.

                3. esra*

                  Oof. I think you’re getting a bit of a rough reception here because this is such basic stuff women run into. Catcalling? Maybe they’re just trying to say hello! Coworker getting too up ons? Gosh, maybe he’s just friendly!

                  We deal with “maybe he means well” as a derail for bad behaviour our whole lives. It’s a common experience that many women acknowledge, and there is tons of information online about it, so it gets a bit tiresome when you get a guy wading in who is like “but prove it to me, convince me” and you’re thinking “there are a million blogs and articles and studies on this, practice some googlefu.”

                4. neverjaunty*

                  Well, as you yourself say, the problem here is the co-worker’s belittling and derailing behavior, and the advice on how to manage that doesn’t require giving him the benefit of the doubt or assuming he means well.

                  But that aside, it is odd to ascribe good motives to bad behavior, particularly when a bad motive better fits the fact. The co-worker isn’t just saying that he’ll get it done; he’s trying to shift the focus of the discussion to the OP supposedly having unpleasant emotions, and those emotions, rather than his conduct, being the source of the problem.

                  Which is to say, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and derails like a duck, it seems beside the point to say “Well hey now, maybe it’s just an innocent sparrow that happens to strongly resemble a duck. Those exist, you know.”

                5. Jaguar*

                  Sorry. I’m really not trying to irritate anyone. I’m just interested in the subject. But the responses do seem to be getting more hostile as this goes on, so it’s probably better if I just drop it.

                6. Aurion*

                  I think I get where you’re coming from, but honestly, it’s not even relevant.

                  Look, even if we put aside the sexist connotations, microaggressions, and all that–let’s assume in this scenario the OP’s coworker is like yours, who is simply flustered and overworked, has the best of intentions, and doesn’t mean to be sexist or condescending at all, and we exist in a vacuum of a world world where sexism doesn’t exist. Saying “don’t worry, it will get done” without the barest apology of blowing the deadline, timeline for when X will be done, or anything that shows a) contrition, or b) quantitative steps toward getting X done, doesn’t help the OP in the least.

                  And if the OP then goes on to discuss “please don’t use ‘don’t worry’ with me, it sets me on edge”, it further derails the conversation to the OP’s feelings, which is not the issue. The issue is the coworker’s inability to finish deliverables on the timeline required.

                  Even if we assume the purest intentions (and I’m enough of a cynic that I don’t, though I acknowledge doing so often brings about better outcomes), going down this rabbit hole doesn’t actually help the OP. The OP wants to get her X so she can go about producing her own deliverable Y. Mollifying her coworkers hurt feelings and going on a tangent about OP’s non-existent stressful feelings isn’t furthering that end at all.

                  OP wants X. Coworker is late with X. The conversation should be about X, not about Coworker derailing with “but you’re upset” and OP going “no I’m not.”

                7. neverjaunty*

                  Jaguar, I get that you’re interested (and you certainly have zero obligaton to continue a discussion if you’re uncomfortable, or if you’d just like time to think about it) – but it might be helpful to your understanding to consider why this is bothering people.

                8. Collarbone High*

                  Men who order passing women to “smile!” will tell you they mean well (“I was just trying to cheer her up”). Cat callers insist they’re just offering compliments. People who “help” women by not promoting them to demanding jobs, by offering unsolicited advice on their appearance, their weight, their marital status, by “cutting them slack because it’s obviously that time of the month” will say they mean well. And maybe they think they do. But the effect is to enforce a status quo where women are considered inferior. And come on, no one who “means well” paints a colleague as hysterical and incompetent for asking someone to meet deadlines.

                9. Alanna*

                  Because the OP may deal with well-meaning men who make her look like an incompetent, emotional female ten times a day. Every one of them means well, but they add up into a public perception of OP as incompetent through no fault of her own. She has to shut him and the other nine guys down firmly, in public, to avoid that.

                10. Nerdling*

                  I find it interesting that you’ve interpreted almost universally civil responses trying to explain why this often comes across as a gendered issue as being hostile. This is possibly the least hostile comments section on the internet. We don’t need to calm down. You just need to be willing to listen for comprehension rather than debate, or you’re always going to think we’re hostile.

                11. Elizabeth the Ginger*

                  Why is “maybe he means well” a bad objection?

                  At my workplace, we talk about the difference between intent and impact. Person A may have neutral or good intentions but still have a negative impact on Person B whom they’re interacting with. That doesn’t mean that A is a bad person, but it might have been a bad action, and once B tells A that, A should stop doing whatever it is they were doing.

                  An overly-simplified example: A sees B with a leg splint making their way up some stairs slowly. A says, “Here, I’ll help!” and hauls on B’s elbow to pull them up the stairs. B startles and grabs their arm in pain – “Ouch, I have a bad shoulder! Please don’t do that!”

                  A intended only the best. But if they respond, “Hey, I meant well!” then they’re placing their own feelings above B’s. A better response is, “Oh no, I didn’t realize! I won’t pull on your arm again. Is there something else I could do to help instead?”

            2. my two cents*

              You do realize that a sweeping majority of women spend a LOT of time apologizing all of the time just like your buddy, right? Like, a lot?!

              Small experiment – scan your inbox for incoming requests from colleagues and compare requests from women vs from men. I bet you’ll find faaaar fewer men apologizing as social smoothers or throwing a few “I know you’re super swamped, but could you please…”.

          3. Mark in Cali*

            Gosh, this whole thread is making me want to say, “Relax.”

            What world do you people live in where it could be a reality that no one would ever say “Relax,” to someone in an office setting?

            1. esra*

              Saying ‘relax’ rarely actually relaxes anyone and is usually pretty passive aggressive. Unless you’re soothing a child maybe?

              Every office setting I’ve been in, from little nonprofit and startup to big multinational, it would be pretty not cool to say that to someone when you’ve blown a deadline. Or ever. But particularly when you’ve dropped the ball.

              1. Jillociraptor*

                Right? Is that not common knowledge? “Relax” and “calm down” basically always mean “Your reaction is inconvenient to me; please stop.”

              2. Lissa*

                Yeah, exactly. Even if somebody is legitimately overreacting/being hysterical/freaking out whatever other language you want to use, saying “calm down” basically never has a good effect. So I don’t really understand why so many people are so insistent on wanting to use it? It’s not that nobody ever overreacts, it’s that telling somebody to “relax” or “calm down” is counterproductive whether or not they are.

            2. Ignis Invictus*

              Our world is an office setting where “Relax” male to female is about the most condescending, good ole’ boy, buddy-buddy system, frustrating quagmire possible. Thankfully I’ve spent most of my career in a vehicle field test environment where the condescending good ole boy crap didn’t fly. If I was told to relax it was because I was genuinely freaking out (keeping track of 4 baby engineers driving semi trucks on public road will do that to you.) If, while on the road, I told my male boss to calm down, totally okay. Back at the office though? It was like flipping a switch, somehow I stopped being an equal part of the group, that’s when “Relax” became deliberately insulting. Frankly there wasn’t one damn office situation where “Relax” would have been contextually appropriate. If I didn’t require a “Relax” when a baby engineer dropped a trailer in the middle of my $50k test trip, I certainly don’t need one when asking for a status update.

        2. CM*

          No (to “sets me on edge”)! Then the OP WOULD be reacting emotionally, which is exactly what this coworker is implying she’s doing when she’s really just making a routine business request.

          “Don’t worry” can be appropriate, if it’s said in a very specific context where somebody is clearly very worried and stressed and you want to reassure them, AND you are actually going to do what they need. Or, if you say it once in a while but not as a regular thing to any particular person, no big deal. Otherwise it sounds dismissive, as if this person is making an unreasonable request or is handling it poorly. It’s just as easy to say, “I’ll have it done by Friday” without tacking on the “don’t worry.”

          Here, it’s clearly inappropriate because the coworker is regularly saying things like, “Calm down” and “Don’t get upset” when the OP is presumably saying stuff like “where is my document” (and not “oh my god, why isn’t this document ready”).

        3. themmases*

          I agree with you, it is awkward to have to address mistakes you made and be chased down about a deadline when you know you are in the wrong. I have definitely been there and I’m sure I’ve given an annoying response myself at times.

          But I disagree that just because the behavior might be unintentional, that makes it OK or means that the OP is the one making a big deal about this. Unintentional behavior can still be sexist. And sexist or not, the coworker caused this problem by being late routinely and responding in an uninformative and annoying manner. If they respond by saying something like “that sets me on edge”, the OP is actually agreeing with her coworker that her emotions are the problem here. She shouldn’t really have to do that.

          No one can read this guy’s mind and know that he is some sexist Machiavelli deliberately manipulating the OP. But that goes both ways– she also can’t know for sure that he’s just a well-meaning guy who didn’t realize he was being so irritating. It’s the behavior that needs to change, not his private motivations. And a truly well-meaning person would want to stop doing something that looks this bad to many people. It does look bad.

        4. my two cents*

          “I know you’re trying to handle a lot” is absolute bs softening language, and you’re basically asking OP to ‘be less aggressive’ when calling him out on sexist behavior while stroking his ego about being ‘so busy’! “kinda sets me on edge” UGH! That phrase definitely sets me on edge. OP doesn’t owe Fergus any sort of emotional management – it’s not OP’s role to reassure Fergus.

          OP *should* be ‘able’ to just say “wow, that was really rude. Can you just tell me when I will have X?”

          I’m speaking quite a bit from personal experiences. I’m a female electrical applications engineer – 8yrs in ucontrollers, 1 yr so far in power.

    5. JessaB*

      Also I think there’s a quantitative difference in “Don’t worry, it’ll get done,” and when you say that it DOES always get done, and saying that when you’ve missed a bunch of deadlines in the past, which proves categorically that NO it’s not going to get done. Not without a lot of stress and last minute scrambling. Which I maintain is not a fair state to put your coworkers in on a regular basis (a one off is different.)

  16. animaniactoo*

    I also favor “Pardon me, you’re responding like it’s not a big deal that you’ve missed the deadline. It actually is a big deal because I also have a deadline which I need to meet and you missing your deadline puts stress on me being able to meet mine. How fast can you get me the information I need?”

    Calm, almost brusque. To the point.

    1. Aurion*

      I’d go even shorter: “you missing your deadline makes it harder for me to meet mine. This is the # deadline you’ve blown this month. I need X. When will you finish it?” Clipped, chilly, voice flat.

      I normally wouldn’t go that clipped, but it sounds like OP’s coworker has a habit of being late and condescending, and I have no patience for that crap.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Eh – I think she’s in the position where she doesn’t have the seniority (length or statuswise) to be that chilly/blunt. I love hbc’s suggested phrasing below.

        1. Aurion*

          Fair enough. This is very dependent on OP’s status and workplace. But this is rather a hot button issue for me, so I am perhaps a biiiiiiit more pissed off at this letter than I should be. :)

          1. OP*

            I would love to say this!!

            But yes, I don’t really feel like I could go quite this far. We are the same level, but I have just been promoted whereas he has been in his role for years.

            Also, culturally where I work (Government) there is quite a lot of emphasis on being nice and friendly and everyone getting along, so I don’t feel I can be too chilly. It’s doubly irritating as I do feel like this culture sort of makes it easier for him to ask about my feelings in an inappropriate way (because if I were genuinely upset it would be part of the culture for people to be super nice and reassuring).

  17. ElectricTeapots*

    I wish I had had this advice a year ago! I nearly missed a fiscal-quarter deadline on my first every project as project manager because a team member on the critical path was so fantastic at evading my status checks with stuff like this. It was some serious deadline judo.

    (Apparently it was a known issue with the guy, though, since finally a manager at his site was just like “I’ll sit in his cubicle and watch him complete the task.” That helped but I felt kind of chagrined that I hadn’t managed better.)

  18. Ell*

    Love this advice. Is it okay to use it even when the person who isn’t getting you the stuff you need is above you (but in a different department)? I’ve been struggling a bit with managing up with someone who always blows by deadlines and acts like its no big deal.

    1. animaniactoo*

      In this situation, you want to carefully document that without said information, Project X will probably blow its deadline, and can they please get back to you soonest?

      Your job in that case is to alert them to the possibility/probability of blowing the overall deadline and leaving it to them to decide whether they care about that. Also to inform anyone else who may have deadlines relying on your work that you are “still waiting for numbers from Jack”, and will get it to them as soon as you can. They may be able to elevate above Jack’s head in a way that you can’t if it’s actually going to be a problem.

  19. Karo*

    The “helping” language is the most annoying part to me. You don’t need his help, you need him to do his job.

    1. Elsajeni*

      Yes, the “help you get it sorted” one really kills me — it frames the situation as if it’s the OP who messed up or blew a deadline, and now Fergus is swooping in to rescue her by… doing the thing he was supposed to have done already.

  20. hbc*

    If he doesn’t want emotions, fine. “I’m not upset or worried. Of the last 20 things I asked you for, 17 were late, 4 of them by over three weeks. If you can’t meet my timelines or disagree with them, then we need to discuss how to align better, not talk about how a 15% on-time rate is making me feel.”

    Worst case, it gets nowhere with him, but then you’ve already prepared your iron-clad evidence for your manager.

      1. hbc*

        I’ve been getting harsher and harsher about this, with my boss of all people. I have actually said, “I don’t want you to tell me it’s going to get done, because that’s what you said about X, Y, and Z. Why is this going to be any different?”

        We…may be a bit dysfunctional.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Well, YOU sound like you’re functioning perfectly fine. :)

          Though I would alter the first sentence a little bit – you don’t need to get into a yes you are/no I’m not argument about whether you’re upset. “This isn’t about my feelings. Of the last 20 things I asked for…”

        2. TootsNYC*

          I may need something ike this! “You want to cut my budget because you say the team that supplies us the stuff to work with is going to start meeting the deadines. But I’ve heard that same promise 6 times in the 5 years I’ve worked here. What makes this time different? Except that you’ve cut my deadine staffing by 40%.”

      1. neverjaunty*

        It does. Admittedly, sometimes for a given value of “worked”, but then, I don’t count it as a huge loss if a “friend” who’s a selfish flake gets pissed and stomps off in a huff when others stop being doormats.

        1. Aurion*

          Well, by their very nature personal relationship tend to involve more feelings, so the script has to be changed at the very least :)

    1. Allison*

      Honestly, if someone had these concerns with me, I really would want those concerns out in the open. It’s so weird when people act like they don’t trust you, but never actually admit that you’ve given them reasons to doubt your reliability. And if they don’t feel like they can say it directly to me, I’d like to think they’d tell my manager about those concerns.

      1. Sadsack*

        Yeah, but don’t you know when you have missed a deadline? Maybe someone treating you like they don’t trust you should make you think to yourself, hmm, I always turn in my stuff to Cersai a couple weeks later than she asked, maybe that’s causing problems for her? (I mean a general you, not you specifically, Allison).

        1. Allison*

          Right, and missing deadlines you’d think would be obvious. But if someone misses a few deadlines and no one ever says anything – even something like “FYI, we really need you to stick to these deadlines going forward” or “because this is a couple days late, the whole project is running behind schedule” or “you keep missing deadlines and it’s a huge problem, I need you to be on top of this” – they might assume that missing deadlines isn’t really that big a deal, and maybe those deadlines were set a few days earlier than they needed to be, to give people a grace period.

          You really can’t assume someone knows there’s a problem if you’ve never said anything.

        2. Lissa*

          I also know a lot of people who I truly believe don’t realize that a particular behaviour is not just a one off for them, and that other people have noticed a pattern where they are often late etc. So I think emotionally it would feel the same for a person who truly did miss a deadline for the first time, and somebody who has missed many, but it hasn’t sunk in. “This person isn’t trusting me for no reason!” Blind spots can be huge even in otherwise competent/smart people so it is probably better to be concrete.

  21. Liane*

    Some commenters don’t seem to realize that the OP’s question *wasn’t* “Are my deadlines realistic or is it not my place to give Fergus deadlines at all?” The question was “How can I stop Fergus making these unprofessional comments and do the part of his job that affects my work?”

  22. MMSW*

    Yup sounds like it is because you are a woman, I don’t even think the younger part matters much here. Can you send him an email so that it is very clearly and calmly laid out for him what the problem is? Also you could cc his/your boss on that as well. Though, if you do that maybe you could include specific deadlines he missed. I would also start keeping a record of times you asked for something and he replied telling you to calm down? You may need an accurate record of this at some point.

  23. DatSci*

    I actually say some of these things to my manager when he’s (obviously visibly) emotional & stressed about the work I’m in charge of. It never occurred to me that it could be interpreted as gendered or condescending. Now that I’ve read this post and the comments, I’ll work on my wording moving forward.

    1. Aurion*

      Well, if you’re saying it as the person who will be doing the tasks, and if you generally get them done on time, I think it’s less of an issue (though I don’t think it’s great wording regardless). The ire here is when the person who has blown the deadline/not doing the work is saying those words, as if some magic fairy will show up and do it for her.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Yeah, I think Aurion is right. if it’s your task to do, the only appropriate voice is the active voice. “I’ll do it in time for you.”

      That’s what’s so annoying about our OP’s coworker. She’s (he’s?) only talking to Fergus about his part of the project, and he’s talking about anything BUT his part: “It will get done” is passive voice and doesn’t involve Fergus’s efforts at all.

      (and that brings up a thought; our OP could say soothingly back, “I’m sure it all will get done–when will you be doing your part?”)

      Now if you’re not Fergus, but you’re Wakeen at the next desk, and our OP is lamenting about the workload, or Fergus, then Wakeen could say, encouragingly, “It will all get done.” But Wakeen can’t say that dismissively!

      So, for DatSci, I would focus on which voice (active or passive) you’re using, and on whether you’re encouraging or dismissive. If you want to be encouraging, I’d still avoid the passive and instead say, “You’ll be able to get it done.”

      There really is very little place for the passive voice in the business world. Things don’t happen by themselves; people do them.

    3. Argh!*

      There are ways to communicate on this besides dismissing the concern. If I heard my slow-as-molasses colleague say “My boss pulled me off of your project last week, so I couldn’t get started by Monday, but I have time to finish by Friday,” there would be a conversation. Just “don’t worry…” has to be backed up by a good track record.

  24. Tomato Frog*

    You might also take the opportunity to pin him down in the moment. He says you don’t need to worry, you say, “Great! I need a response by noon tomorrow. Is that something you can do?” Or “Glad to hear it. When’s the latest I can expect the report?”

    1. Nina*

      I thought that, too. It’s harder for him to blow it off if he has to give a concrete time and date.

  25. Turanga Leela*

    Alison is nicer than I’d be. I loathe that kind of “Don’t be upset” reaction, and I know I’d go straight to the last part. “Not upset. Just want your June estimates. Did you send them?” I wouldn’t be aggressive about it, but I wouldn’t soften it or smile either. There would be eyebrows.

    I think Alison’s approach is probably better, but this is also effective in the moment.

  26. Dulcinea*

    This letter illustrates why I disagreed with Allison’s advice last week to the person who perceived her boss as being angry or annoyed (because boss would sigh or roll their eyes) even when the boss didn’t explicitly say that they were upset and just answered the LW’s question. As I recall, Allison’s advice was to say something along the lines of “you seem frustrated by my answer is ther something else you wanted me to do?” I mentioned in that thread that I disagreed but didn’t have time to come back for further discussion. I get that mannerisms like eye-rolling can be off-putting but I really think it’s not appropriate to comment on your perceptions of someone’s emotions/inner thoughts at work and focus on what they actually say and whether they are doing the tasks they need to do/giving you the information you need to get. It also seems kind of passive aggressive- what you really want is for the person to stop rolling their eyes, but you phrase it as though you u honestly think they might be keeping something from you that they would share if only you prod further. Here, I think the patronizing co-worker may be trying t oget OP to stop following up with him, deadlines be da**ed, and couching it in faux concern/reassurances… the co-worker in this letter would drive me absolutely insane.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      See, I think that’s different. When your boss is giving you a bunch of signals that they’re frustrated or angry but not using their words to communicate, the most direct way to deal with it is to name what you’re seeing and ask about it. In that situation, the emotional display is relevant — it’s the thing that’s showing there’s an issue (and it’s unpleasant and you’d like it to stop.)

  27. TootsNYC*

    In terms of tone, there’s always the puzzled one. And that “you have two heads!” thing with your eye expression.

    I sometimes love the “blind them with science technique,” so if he says, “it will get done,” my response is, “I’m not a fan of the passive voice in these situations. I prefer the active voice: ‘I will do it.’ And so, when will you give me that data, Fergus? I’d like to plan, so please be accurate.” And wait.

    Of course, you could go on the counter attack. “Fergus, you sound like you’re stressed because I’ve asked you for that data twice. I’m sorry if I’ve stressed you, but I do need to be able to plan my workflow so we can meet the deadline. Is there a better way for me to be sure I get what I need? A better way for us to communicate?”

    1. my two cents*

      ‘Cept, don’t apologize for having stressed them with your repeated request – it’s not OP’s fault that OP has to (again) prod Fergus for information. This is another example of apologizing as a social smoother.

      I’d suggest more of a “Should we sit down with and figure out a plan for this, for when future requests come up? We can’t keep missing these deadlines or else .”

      1. my two cents*

        That should say “or else * consequences here *”, but it sounds much more terrifying like that. lol

  28. Argh!*

    I have a female colleague whose excessive perfectionism delays her work, affecting mine. I went to my boss about it because she just didn’t get it when I tried to stress how her slowness affected my job.

    Would a man say to another man “Don’t get upset”??? This kind of thing really bothers me. It’s just never productive to tell a person not to have feelings, but it seems like men do this to women a lot.

    If I were OP I’d appeal to my boss to talk to his boss. There’s a performance issue here, not an issue of feelings. Is the person procrastinating? Or is his boss giving him other things to do that get into the way? Whichever it is, it’s for his boss to help him manage his time effectively, not you at this point. You’ve tried.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, it’s inappropriate on so many fronts—in general, in a gendered context… even taken at face value. I mean, what if the OP were upset? She’d have a right to be upset! She’s missing her deadline because you’re making her miss her deadline because you’re missing your deadline.

  29. auntie_cipation*

    I have a similar dynamic in a non-work situation — with my mom, who is always running late for things and seems to not really care — the world still works and people still accommodate her when she’s late, so from her perspective all is well. I used to be an always-running-late person and now I’m not, and it works really well for me to be early for things now (and I’m never without a book or other useful thing to do with a few minutes of wait time).

    When I visit my mom I find it really frustrating to be on her always-late schedule (even though it’s mostly for HER appointments, not mine — though occasionally it’s something like a movie time that is equally valued by each of us).

    If I tell her that it’s important to me to be on time, she’ll say “I’ll be ready on time” but it’s just words — she doesn’t make any change in her actions. (I think she thinks that just *intending* to be on time will somehow magically cause her to feel like getting going earlier.)

    When I try to offer her heads-up that it’s time to get going if we’re going to get to X on time, she often responds like the LW reports, with “don’t worry, we still have a few minutes” or “don’t worry, they’ll still seat us even if we are late”. She’s not at that point actually missing external deadlines, just my own personal “we should leave the house by x time so we’ll be on time for the movie without having to speed through town).

    It’s so hard to know what to say to someone who simply doesn’t hold the same understanding about how time unfolds. So I end up stating it as my own personal preference: “Mom, I’m not comfortable having to rush at the last minute; I’d like us to get there by X time” which to her, and perhaps many people, is heard as *worrying*. Hence the response back focusing on the emotion. Last visit I actually said “I’m not willing to be late to meals (at the dining common of her retirement place); if you’re not ready I’m going to go ahead without you. Which I hate doing but it did seem to have an effect!

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      As someone who’s always punctual / early, I have mixed feelings about people like your mother. On the one hand, I do think there are people who are inconsiderate or self-centered and thus chronically late. On the other hand, there does seem to be significant research indicating certain things like ADHD can affect timeliness… or that some chronically late people actually perceive the passage of time differently from others. I’m not saying that such people should be excused from being chronically late, but the extra challenges they face in being timely should be recognized. Not sure if your mother is in that latter category or not.

        1. Jillociraptor*

          This hits hilariously close to home! I’m the chronically late partner of an aggressively punctual person, and we’ve had to learn that we kind of speak different languages about time.

          For example, you can’t ask me things like “Are you ready to go?” (I will always say yes, whether it’s true or not) or “How long will that take you?” (you need to add at least 15 minutes to whatever I say) I just can’t answer them in a normal way. I can’t explain it, and as much as I try, I can’t change it. But if you say, “Can we leave at 6:15?”, we’re good. I’ll have my shoes on, teeth brushed, bag ready, good to go. You just can’t put me in charge of durations.

          We’re a total flip when it comes to backwards planning large tasks, though. I can figure out all of the steps to do something, like move to a new apartment, by a deadline, which totally overwhelms him. So I know I have to be explicit about what he’s responsible for: call the mover and ask them X. Call the cable company by Thursday…

          It’s so funny how differently we deal with time!

      1. auntie_cipation*

        In this case there’s some of each. She has been chronically late her whole life, and acknowledges it stems from some kind of “you can’t tell me what to do” mentality. On the other hand, she’s been an adult for many years and there’s no reason she can’t accept that she has that *tendency* and yet still honor mutual agreements to do something at X time where there is no oppression involved: meals with friends, movies or other cultural events, doctor’s appointments, etc. So I do think she has more of a valid mental struggle than others do, but I also think she’s had years to learn how to deal with her own inclinations in a way that isn’t rude to her friends and family.

    2. neverjaunty*

      It’s not her understanding of how time unfolds; it’s her understanding of the consequences of running on her own personal schedule, rather than external deadlines that don’t really affect her, and she doesn’t take “I need not to feel rushed, Mom” as anything important enough to affect her behavior. As you note, when you have said you are going to leave without her, she suddenly manages to improve being late.

      1. esra*

        I feel like I’m chewing on tin foil just reading about this. It won’t work for everyone, but I am definitely a person who will just go ahead without the late person.

          1. auntie_cipation*

            Yes. In fact, when we occasionally discuss her coming to live with me instead of the retirement home, our differing lifestyles in regards to time is a major consideration. I love her, and enjoy visiting with her, but the logistics of daily life in that vein would make me crazy.

          2. Anonymous Educator*

            Yeah, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found less and less patience for chronically late people. I still love them as people, but it just becomes difficult to make plans with them. I can see them at parties or small gatherings, because those are totally cool for people to be late to. Can’t ever meet them at a restaurant that requires a reservation. Can’t travel with them if it involves actually catching a flight.

            And by “chronically late,” I don’t mean 3-5 minutes late. I’m talking 30-45 minutes late.

      2. anonderella*

        I am a chronically late person. I think I’m pretty socially-awkward, so maybe subconsciously I prefer to enter a social arrangement where the “party” so to speak is already starting to swing; I need to be able to take a social barometer of the room and decide if I’ll be able to stay comfortably. I (and I know this would make some people faint) am typically between 1 and 2 hours late to everything (social stuff, not doctor’s appointments, etc).

        I agree with neverjaunty on that it depends on the perceived consequences. I’m typically an hour late to family stuff, but if my grandmother who goes to bed at 4 pm is leaving early, I’ll buck up and make a genuine effort to be there to spend time with her because I don’t want to miss her. I’m generally two hours late to friendly get-togethers (with a group, not if I’m meeting one person), but if I want to carpool and not drive somewhere particular, I’ll probably be there on time.

        And I want to point out, no matter how I behave with my personal life, that I think OP’s coworker’s behavior is extremely irritating and unacceptable to be so dismissive, regardless but also especially because coworker consistently can’t meet work deadlines that impact other people.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I think I’m pretty socially-awkward, so maybe subconsciously I prefer to enter a social arrangement where the “party” so to speak is already starting to swing

          In a party setting, I think it’s actually fairly common or even expected for guests to show up “late.” In other words, if it’s a dinner party and officially starts at 7:00, it’s “on time” (i.e., fashionably late) to arrive at 7:15-7:45. If you arrive at 6:55, you will annoy the host, who may not be ready yet to entertain guests. If you arrive at 10:00pm, all the guests and food will probably be gone by then.

          However, if you and your one friend are meeting at a restaurant that has a reservation for 7pm for 2 people, and you arrive at 7:45, that’s a jerk move.

  30. Socal Tech*

    Since he has missed several deadlines I would add to what advice was given. I would get your manager involved or speak directly to that person’s manager. I would be factual. Coworker missed these deadlines and busted the timelines by x percent. It makes me adjust my timetable and sets my projects back.

  31. Observer*

    I haven’t read the comments yet, but I have a question. Does he do this to others? Does he do this to GUYS?

    If not, and Alison’s advice about calling him out on this doesn’t work, perhaps you ask him why he thinks that you need so much more soothing and emotional “support” than all of the other guys who he doesn’t talk to this way. Alternatively, you might want to talk to your manager or HR about this. For this to work, you need to be unemotional about this, but you need to be specific about what you need, and why you need it in the timeline you are asking for, and what you are getting instead.

    “I need the TPS reports a week before I hand in my overview to the steering committee, so I can properly co-relate them with the other data I need to work with. I always give Fergus at least a week to get them to me in that time frame. When I remind him about the reports, he deflects by trying sooth me and telling me not worry and similar responses. I noticed that he doesn’t do this to the men in the office. Since he frequently gets me the information I need long after I need it, and sometimes misses deadlines, I am concerned about getting my work done. I don’t need any more emotional support that the men, but I do need the information to do the job. How do you suggest I get the information I need from him?”

  32. Master Bean Counter*

    Okay so this dude is coming to your desk to reassure that work will get done, instead of actually doing the work?
    Personally my answer at that point in time would be, “Why are you here telling me this when you could be working on X?”
    I would email this guy every single request. “Fergus I need Y by Friday at three. Let me know if there are any issues.”
    When he comes by to tell you don’t worry this will get done, the only answer is “great.”
    Calm, cool, and professional is the way to go with this guy.

  33. EW*

    I love Allison’s suggestions for responding to this. I also think that laying out clear deadlines in your original requests to you coworker is super important in preventing this issue. Maybe you’re following up with him after 2 days because you need the info then, while he’s thinking he can get it to you in a week and in the meantime you just need reassurances. So make sure each request you send him has a clear (and reasonable) deadline for when you need it – and stick to that, meaning don’t follow up again unless or until he misses the deadline. If he comes to you with empty reassurances, you can just emphasize that you provided a deadline and you need him to meet it. And if he keeps missing deadlines, then make sure there’s a bigger-picture conversion with him (and maybe his boss) about why.

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