is it rude to cold-call a colleague, employees are complaining to me about each other, and more

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

1. Is it rude for a colleague to cold-call me?

I work for a national corporation where many people work from home, and those who work in offices are dispersed around the country. So there’s no knocking on someone’s office door to ask a question, although we do have instant messaging. My company is part of an even larger conglomerate of companies — we’re all separately incorporated but share a brand. Today, someone from a sister company called me totally out of the blue because she saw my name on a white paper, to ask me a series of detailed questions about one of our programs.

To me, this felt like a total faux pas — she should have sent an email and said, “I have a question about X. Can I set up some time to talk to you?” and even added “This is unfortunately very urgent – a major account is at risk – so can you squeeze me in today?” [Note: cold caller did not actually indicate that this was urgent, just said she found my name on the white paper.]

Granted, I could have said that I was in the middle of something (I was, but it wasn’t a meeting) and told her to email me some times when she was available. But I didn’t and am irritated with myself, but equally irritated at this person for what I consider a breach of etiquette. Is my company just weird and phone-averse? Would cold-calling someone you’ve never spoken to before be considered in bad form in most places of employment?

This isn’t weird. It’s pretty normal to call a colleague to ask work-related questions, even someone you don’t know. The expectation is that if it’s a bad time, the person being called will say so.

There are lots of people, including me, who much prefer to have calls scheduled in advance unless it’s something very short or time-sensitive. But that’s just a preference, not The Way Things Are Universally Done. Calling people up when you need something from them is still a normal thing that happens.

2. Employees are complaining to me about each other

I wonder if you have some advice for me regarding some unrest in the office between a few PA’s. I’m the admin manager in my office and manage a team of 13. There is a group of PA’s (working on a different floor than me) who all have very strong personalities and there’s the occasional clash. However, last week, PA1 and PA2 asked to see me to tell me about PA3, who they said was becoming unbearable to work with, as she constantly makes snide remarks and they feel like it’s creating a really unprofessional atmosphere and that it’s probably, in their opinion, affecting morale among the assistants. (A couple of years ago, PA1 and PA2 made similar complaints about a different PA, who subsequently left, saying she couldn’t cope with her position, but now I wonder if it was because she felt picked on too).

The following day, PA3 came up and asked if she could have a word with me and basically told me exactly the same things that PA1 and PA2 said about her, and that she’s feeling bullied by them and that they’re being unprofessional, etc. I told all of them, in their separate meetings, that unless they wanted to make an official complaint, then there wasn’t a great deal I could do, but that they should all be as professional as possible and ignore it. I am, however, worried about the general atmosphere and how this might affect new joiners, or even if I’ll lose other PA’s who just don’t wish to put up with it any longer. I suggested to PA3 about getting an independent mediator in for all of them to have their say and find a way round this, but she’s not willing to do it. Any advice? Do I need to investigate further with the other PA’s on the floor, or does this risk making things worse?

Don’t do a mediator — that can go badly if one person is a clear victim and the others are bullies. Plus, it’s sort of abdicating your responsibility to manage them.

Instead, yes, investigate further by talking to others who work closely with them. You don’t need a formal complaint to do that! Find out what it’s like to work with each of them and whether they’ve observed any behavior that fits in with either of the two narratives you’ve heard. If you do that, and you factor in what you know about the credibility of each person, I think you’ll come away with reasonably good data about what’s going on.

3. Manager suggested I do Toastmasters but won’t pay for the time

Is it okay for your supervisor to ask for you to take on training outside of work?

Last week, I received feedback from my supervisor, via his supervisor, that I could benefit from Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills. I was also told that I would not be paid for any time spent on Toastmasters. I responded to my supervisor that it is not something I would be willing to take on outside of work.

I can understand that they would not be able to pay me for this time since I work for local government and if I were paid, I would be representing the county in any of my speeches, which could get complicated. I also wouldn’t mind improving on my public speaking skills but this suggestion has really upset me. I feel like I’m being told that my work product could improve but my employer is not willing to support or invest in my improvement. I feel like it is an inappropriate and manipulative suggestion and I’m all twisted up inside about it.

I think you’re reacting too strongly to this. It’s not uncommon or outrageous for a manager to mention that you could benefit from something like Toastmasters, and it’s really normal for government employers not to be able to pay for time spent on that type of outside activity. If they were requiring it, there would be more of a case for them to pay for your time, but they’re not — they’re just telling you that this is something that would benefit you professionally. That’s not inappropriate or manipulative; it’s actually useful feedback.

4. Asking for time off for movers after starting a new job

I’m moving to a new state for a job, and it’s the first time I’m not moving myself. I’m not taking too much with me, so I’m using a smaller moving company that contracts out all the actual work of driving, loading/unloading, etc. Because of this, they can’t give me an exact date of when my stuff will arrive at my new apartment. They will give me a day when they expect to arrive closer to the actual date, but for now, I just have a two to three week range.

Here’s the actual question: how and when do I ask for time off on possibly very short notice within the first week or two after I start a new job? I know this is something you don’t ordinarily do, but since I’m moving, I imagine it must be an exception.

Let your manager know now what the situation is — just send her a short email that explains that you’ll need a day off to meet your movers when they arrive but that they can’t tell you the exact date until closer to that time, and ask if there’s a way to make that work. She will almost certainly say yes. Then when you start the job, just remind her again that that’s the situation.

5. How long should managing people take?

Just wondering if you have thoughts around the “right” amount of time a people leader should spend each week doing the things that are actually people management – things like development, coaching, feedback, talking about priorities and satisfaction.

There’s a popular article indicating that the right number is six hours “with” each employee, but I’m actually trying to get a sense of the actual amount of time, total with and without the direct report, that I should ask my employees to spend on management tasks.

It really depends on the type of jobs they’re managing — managing some types of jobs requires no more than an hour or two of management work a week, and others require much more (check-ins, reviewing work, giving feedback, helping problem-solve, etc.) . There’s just no way to have one number that covers every type of job you might be managing — although one constant is that it’s nearly always a lot more time than managers think it will be. But six hours per person every week is more than any average number I would have offered up.

{ 274 comments… read them below }

  1. stevenz*

    #1. You must be of the no-direct-voice-contact generation that relies solely on text and email and whatever other apps there are to communicate. It wasn’t very long ago that *all* internal communication took place either face to face or by phone. It didn’t matter whether you knew the person or not, the fact that they have a company-related issue you can help with is all the introduction needed. I wish more people would use the phone, including me. It’s interesting to consider that I work in an open office with over a hundred other people and there is rarely a phone ringing. In the past, half of them would have been on the phone at any one time. It’s how work got done.

    #3. Is Toastmasters available during work hours? They might give you the time during the day to go (if you want to). That doesn’t cost them anything.

    #5. I have had to ask for time off for movers a couple of times. In my case, I didn’t have any actual leave accumulated so I had to make up the time and it was all done strictly off the books. That worked. Another time they just said “of course you have to be there to receive the movers” and that was the end of it. I hope it goes well. A little advice: if you bought the insurance, go through things as soon as you can looking for breakage and make a claim pronto. It can be so unsettling to move, in a new place, in a new job, putting an entire life together, that it’s easy to overlook this part of it then time runs out on being able to make a claim.

    1. Mel*

      1. Nice condensation there! You know my 55 year old dad gets annoyed when i call without texting first too, cos he’s usually busy and can’t answer a call all the time. Crazy, right?

      3. If they’re an hourly worker, they’ll still lose money. If they want them doing it to be better at their job, they need to be paid for their time.

      1. a*

        I’m not completely sure if you meant condensation or condescension? (I’m sorry, I’m trying to figure out how to do this in a way that doesn’t sound ironically condescending.)

          1. Mookie*

            Can we not leave out transpiration and evaporation? The whole thing’s kablooey without them.

              1. Yup*

                Condensed condescension is the most effective and economical as it’s a concentrate.
                A concentration of condensation of condescension.
                Please keep up, everyone!

      2. Graciosa*

        Regarding #3, I don’t agree.

        If it’s either part of the job (actual work, such as “we need a delegate to attend toastmasters to represent the city in a debate”) or if the employer requires it as if it were, then I would agree that they need to be paid for their time.

        But not all self-improvement which affects your job is compensable. For example, people who go back to school while working to get a degree that will help them advance are not generally compensated for time spent in class or studying. The vague it-helps-to-have-an-educated-workforce benefit to the company is not equivalent to having it be part of the job. Moreover, the benefit to the individual of having a degree is probably much greater than the benefit to the company, and the person takes that degree with them to many other employers throughout their career.

        Public speaking skills fit into the same category. This is something the LW could do to benefit their own career – long term – probably much more than the benefit to this employer, but if the LW doesn’t want to invest the time, so be it.

        I will say that the LW is probably hurting only themselves with this stance and focus on being paid. Not all managers provide useful, actionable coaching on how to get ahead. The LW’s did, and there are lots of employees that would be thrilled to have this kind of feedback, but these managers may be less likely to provide additional coaching following the LW’s response.

        At this point, if the LW’s appearance, for example, were limiting his or her ability to be promoted, I doubt I would say anything lest I be hit with a demand to fund a new wardrobe.

        1. Seriously Now*

          But a company that required an employee to go back to school for their job would reasonably be expected to foot that tuition bill. Even if it were a suggestion for how to move up in the company, a tuition payment plan would be a smart thing to work out with the company before taking that on.

          Somehow I doubt you’d be fine with your employer expecting you to go back to school without paying your tuition, but then balk if they wanted you to shell out for a new wardrobe. Really, you’ve got it backwards.

          1. HRChick*

            We have some positions that we hire/promote people to contingent on their completion of a degree program within a certain time period. We do not pay for that degree program. Usually it happens when a candidate is a good choice, but doesn’t have the appropriate education level.

          2. doreen*

            But the OP’s manager is not requiring it. And even when companies reimburse tuition, they generally do not count the time spent in class as work time * – which is the OP’s issue. S/he isn’t writing about wanting the employer to pay for any fees for Toastmasters (which seem to be under $100 a year, far less than tuition) or about not having time to do it – it’s about feeling it’s inappropriate to suggest it if the employer is not willing to pay for the time spent on it. You’re right that it’s not like expecting the company to fund a new wardrobe- it’s like expecting the company to pay for the time spent shopping.

            * I had a job that did pay for tuition and counted class time as work time for those accepted into a special program – but it required a commitment to remain on the job for at least 5 years after completing the degree or repayment of not only the tuition but the pay for the hours spent in class.

            1. Callietwo*

              I’m completed my final course through a local community college that was required by my company for anyone in my position and not only did they pay for the classes and were expected to do the coursework during work hours, we were explicitly instructed to not do any of the work outside of work hours. I am grateful that the required work has given me an even better basis to do my work but that it didn’t really impact my home life. There are companies out there.

              That said, this does not sound like the same thing to me at all. This sounds to me that the manager is giving the LW feedback on something they’ve not mastered quite yet with a suggestion of where they can find help to improve. I would rather be given the chance to improve my skills than be let go because I wasn’t up to snuff!

              For me, I read journals, blogs, news articles that are all pertinent to my position both in & outside of work so that I may continuing improving and I liken this situation to be the same deal.

          3. TootsNYC*

            I don’t think that’s true–my father was required to complete certain hours of continuing education in order to keep his teaching certificate. That was his expense.

            If you’re required to have a college degree to get a job. the employer doesn’t pay for it.

          4. Lemon Zinger*

            Well said. I just started graduate school and I am paying nothing for it because I work at a university. The degree is directly related to my field and I need it to advance, but I’m certainly not getting paid FOR it.

            That said, my boss was incredibly displeased when I told her my plans… apparently she doesn’t support my desire to further my career.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I agree with this completely. My organization will pay for job-specific training like certification in a mission-critical business application, even if it is costly. I bet it would even consider the very inexpensive Toastmaster dues for certain levels of employees, but they are not going to pay like it’s work time for that particular type of training (and we don’t even have the added factor of considering government-sponsored speech). They also aren’t going to pay for a degree program — if a degree is required, we’d hire for it, not pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition money.

          Professional development is something that specifically benefits you and is transferable to other jobs. Something like developing public speaking skills is something that may help in your current position as well a lot of other jobs. I don’t know if your boss said “join Toastmasters” or just offered it as an option for improving a weak area. Rather than getting all bent out of shape over pay, look for other options that are more convenient with your schedule. Coursera offers (or used to offer) a public speaking class, and I’d be there are other flexible and inexpensive options.

          If I was told I had to go pay for an expensive certification on something my employer selected, I’d be peeved. That’s not what’s happening here. They’ve identified a professional weakness not specific to the individual job and made a suggestion on how to address it. If their suggestion doesn’t work for you, come up with another development option that is better suited to you. Professional development is a career-long thing, and you have to invest some time in yourself.

          1. nonegiven*

            My husband’s employer pays for his annual license renewal and the CEUs he needs to keep it and he does them on company time.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yep, it definitely makes sense in a number of cases. For instance, we pay for attorney bar membership and CLE credit. I also pay for specific certification for my non-attorney staff on things that we need them to have and am sending someone to an out-of-town conference to get them the credits they need to maintain a specific cert. I think those things are different than expecting to be paid to attend Toastmasters meetings, though.

    2. auntie_cipation*

      I disagree on your #1 point in two different ways. First, not all phone-averse people are of the young generation — I’m a baby boomer in my 50s and I hate using the phone and always have (I like to say I was the only teenage girl in California in the 70s who didn’t spend all her time on the phone). Second, companies have had internal memos (written) being put in physical inboxes for many decades — perhaps as long as there have been inboxes and an office environment — so no, all internal communication wasn’t limited to face-to-face or by phone.

      I know it’s not really relevant to the OP’s situation but I felt I wanted to correct these two misimpressions.

      1. Anlyn*

        I’m about a decade or two later, but I remember my mom asking me if I would use the phone if they got a second line, so I could talk to my friends without tying up the main line. I hesitated for about 10 seconds then honestly replied, no, no I wouldn’t. I hate the phone to this day, and only ever call my mom. I will talk to a friend if she calls, but I won’t call her; I just hate talking on it that much.

        That said, I do call people at work without emailing. Sometimes I just need an answer that is more easily discussed and understood than is capable with email and IM…especially with how I struggle to explain things.

      2. beachlover*

        Hi Auntie,
        You weren’t the only teenage girl that did not like phone conversations. To this day, I do not do chit chat. If I want to talk to my family, I email them or message them on facebook. I will do it for work, but it is a short to the point conversation, and usually because email is not getting the job done.

    3. Sami*

      As far as OP#1 goes, that’s not necessarily a generation thing. It’s tiring to hear it so frequently.
      Some people prefer phoning, others don’t. It’s great when others contact someone via their preferred method, but it just isn’t always possible.

      1. Zillah*

        This. And no method is innately superior to another in all situations, either – it’s not indicative of crippling societal decay that people are using email more than they’re using phones in this day and age. It’s just a different method of communication that many people prefer.

        1. Nico M*

          Yeah but people do use email to avoid shit. I know i do.

          And messaging was invented by satan to sow discord. All the drawbacks of phone and email combined.

          1. FiveWheels*

            40-something here, i detest phones because a call means i need to stop doing what I’m doing, think about a file i probably don’t have on my desk, make a note on the conversation, put it in the filing pile, and then go back to my initial work… Losing time all the way.

            Preferring email isn’t a generational thing and there at many reasons, not all of them designed to waste time.

            Note: I’m happy to use this to my advantage, phoning the other side when I have reason to believe it’s inconvenient for them.

            1. serenyty*

              Yeah, and email is also a lot easier to prioritize. I might get five requests from other coworkers all with varying levels of urgency – however, to all of them these requests are urgent. It allows me to choose what to work on based off of what needs to be done first. If people are stopping by my desk or calling me, the usual expectation is that I do that work now. Sometimes you can say “oh I’m really busy, can you call back later?” but that still throws things off.

              Plus, with email there’s written confirmation, which can be handy.

            2. General Ginger*

              +1 to everything you said.

              I’m in my late 30s, and calling is just the worst way to try to get useful information out of me — for one, I probably don’t have it available at my fingertips, and would have to do some research. I guarantee my answer will be oodles better if you send me an e-mail so I can pull together everything you need before calling you back.

        2. stevenz*

          No Judgement was made or implied. It’s a finding of research that people of a certain age group use non-voice communication to a much higher degree than other forms. Those habits are definitely being adopted by everyone now. It’s just that the idea of a colleague calling on the phone unannounced is not only strange but unprofessional is, I’m sorry, laughable.

          1. AnotherAnon*

            You didn’t intend to imply it, but that’s the way it came out. Plus, you turned a statistical trend into a “you must” statement, which seems to be a combination of “Appeal to probability” and “Affirming the consequent” fallacies (yay, I learnt something! wikipedia has a nice list of fallacies :).

            Also, I suspect any sentence starting with “you must” has a high probability of sounding condescending and judgemental.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I want to cut off the generational stuff right here so it doesn’t take over the thread (it was thoroughly covered earlier in the week!). People of all ages dislike the phone.

      1. Formica Dinette*

        Half-serious request for AAM t-shirts and coffee mugs reading:

        People of all ages dislike the phone.
        -Alison Green

    5. Accidental Analyst*

      #1 um the op did mention that they would have been ok with a call – if it had of been scheduled.
      I’m wondering if the OPs question might have been better worded as “Would cold calling someone you’ve never met before in order to ask a series of detailed questions be considered bad form?”. If so my answer would be that it’s good to give an indication (phone or some written form) of what you’re after and ask if now’s a good time or if there’s a time that can be scheduled. Admittedly the OP could have, and they acknowledge that, asked them to schedule a time.
      And just wanted to point out, even in the mythical phone/face only times of communication, it’s still polite to check if the person has time or would prefer another time if it’s not a simple question.

      1. Kyrielle*

        This. OP #1, I have found that an answer that works well for me when they check if I’m busy / if it’s a bad time, is, “A little, but I can make time for a quick question, or a longer one if it’s urgent.” And then if they say it’s longer and not urgent, I ask if (time) or (time) would work for them, and also whether they can give me the basic topic quickly (or email it, if it’s more complex), so that I can make sure I’ve refreshed my memory before the later call, if needed.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          It sounds like the caller is a “phone person” rather than an “IM/Email person”.

          Anyway, I once worked with somebody who was very fond of phoning out of the blue, and demanding detailed information immediately. She could never understand why I didn’t give her a direct answer, since there were invariably things which needed looking up/confirming, before I came back to her.

          1. Kyrielle*

            I wasn’t suggesting email as a substitute for the phone call, though. The only case where I suggested email is where simply laying out the issue is complex, in which case an email heads-up with the details before the call would be handy.

            I’m not a phone person, as I think most people can guess, but I can work fine with them. Like you, though, I can’t answer complicated questions off the cuff unless I’m lucky to have all the pieces right to hand (and, if I’m given no warning, that is a question of pure luck).

          2. the gold digger*

            My husband has been taking care of his parents’ estate. He is the executor and the trustee for the trusts to be established for the four grandchildren. He is the only decision maker. There is nothing to negotiate.

            So he has been sending emails to his half brother, Ted (who has been trying to drain his own mentally-disabled son’s trust) with his decisions about Ted’sSon’s trust.

            Ted gets very annoyed and has told Primo that he wants phone calls – that he does not like Primo’s didactic, one sided tone. “We’re talkers!” Ted says about himself and his wife.

            Primo just rolls his eyes and continues with the email. Primo is also a talker, but talking is useful only when there is negotiation and/or a decision to be arrived at jointly. It is not necessary when one person makes the decisions and the other person has to live with them.

            1. Catalin*

              Sometimes, “We’re talkers!” really means, “We’d prefer not to have a paper trail of this conversation/decision because we may want to contest it down the road in a he-said/she-said manner.”

              1. the gold digger*

                Yes! Considering that Ted has already threatened to contest the will and has accused Primo of acting in poor faith, I can see why he would not want a paper trail.

                However, that is the exact reason that Primo does want a paper trail.

                1. JessaB*

                  Exactly. A paper trail in things like this is absolutely necessary. Any time you’re dealing with legal matters, paperwork MATTERS a whole lot. Do not let Primo give in to the phone thing unless he’s absolutely following the phone thing with an email going “this is what happened in the phone thing.”

                2. GreyjoyGardens*

                  Primo is smart. A man who is capable of draining *his own DISABLED son’s trust* is capable of anything. Ted sounds like a Grade A sleazeball. Damn skippy Primo needs a paper trail.

                  Poor Ted’s son. :(

                3. the gold digger*

                  GreyjoyGardens, Ted sent Primo an email a week before April 15, asking for some money Primo had promised him. (He and his wife sent a spreadsheet listing $156K of Ted’sSon’s school expenses for the past seven years, even though Ted’sMom paid $100K of that and Sly and Doris paid about $20K and even though this all happened before Sly and Doris died.)

                  He explained in the email that they needed the money not because Ted’sSon had some legitimate expense but because

                  1. They were remodeling the house
                  2. They wanted to fund their IRAs
                  3. They were planning a family vacation to Switzerland.

                  (PS Who goes on vacation to Switzerland before funding his IRA?)

                4. GreyjoyGardens*

                  (Out of nesting) GoldDigger – Ted isn’t even smart about his grifting, it seems! Was he hiding behind the door when God was passing out brains?

                  Poor, poor Ted’s Son. I hope there are people looking out for him because it sounds like Dad would drain every penny if he could. Grrr. I hate abuse of the vulnerable.

                5. the gold digger*

                  I know, GG. I would be sick with worry about what would happen after my death if I had a disabled child. Primo is having none of Ted’s BS, which is making Ted furious. (Remember he is also the person who thought that his father’s estate should reimburse him for the plane tickets he got to attend the funeral and for parking in the most expensive parking at the airport and for the meals he ate while visiting his father.)

                  Primo is dealing with Ted now, but plans to turn the trusteeship over to a lawyer. Ted can try screaming at the lawyer and using emotional blackmail, but it won’t work and the lawyer will just charge the trust. (The screaming and the emotional blackmail have not worked on Primo, either – he grew up with Sly and Doris, so Ted is small potatoes, but it’s still a pain in the neck.)

                6. the gold digger*

                  nonegiven, I would run away as fast as I could. Primo’s best friend is a lawyer who, with his lawyer brother, has settled two family estates and managed some trusts. He told Primo to resign, but Primo has not listened. Nobody can make you be a trustee. If they do, they need to pay you a ton of money because it is a royal pain in the neck.

              2. Jillociraptor*

                Or, even more pessimistically, I sometimes run into folks who will use a phone call to pressure or manipulate someone into making a decision by using time pressure and other icky tactics.

    6. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      OMG, I am 55 years old. Why, as soon as preferred methods of communication comes up, does somebody *have* to make it a generational thing with a sneer at “these kids today and their fear of doing things The Good Old Days Way”.


      Phone, as a communication method, makes sense for me when it makes sense. I am busy person who has to schedule her time tightly and therefore choose the most efficient methods for each situation. That is usually email and phone, if I choose to use it, is usually pre-scheduled with some kind of email agenda first. I do not listen to or leave voicemails which I think are the greatest time suck ever invented.

      My cohort is Late Boomer.

      This is all.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I would do that (because there is one EA who likes to use the VM to tell THE ENTIRE COMPANY about something unimportant), but sometimes clients call me when they can’t download a file. The rest of us use IM or email.

          Off-topic, but our IM is now Skype because Microsoft. I just got a new Win 10 computer at work and I’m all, WHUT. It functions the same, but the weird little interface is freaking me out.

          Doctor Google will be my best friend for the next few days….

    7. mazzy*

      I was going to say that this is not cold calling!

      I’m not even that old but I remember in my first few jobs doing everything by phone. I remember sometimes having lists of 40 or 50 people to call to ask the same question that would now get handled via a mass email.

      1. the gold digger*

        Exactly! Cold calling is when someone you don’t know from outside the company calls to ask if you are the person who makes the decisions about waste management and if not, would you please give the name of that person?

        D&B accidentally listed my direct phone number as the main contact at my previous company of 100,000 employees. I got those calls. And the calls for copy machines. And for computers.

        I knew cold callers, sir, and you are no cold caller.

        1. Nanani*

          Do you mean calls FOR the machines, as in you answer and just get BZZZ BZZ BEEP BEEEEEEP FSSSSH?

          Because I got those when a lot of clients/vendors/etc couldn’t tell the difference between the FAX line for the office and my department’s line. I think they were off by only 1 digit.

    8. BRR*

      The reason almost all communication took place face to face or by phone was there weren’t other options available. I don’t mind the phone as much as others here but i acknowledge it can be distracting. I work in an open office plan and it would be a deal breaker if nobody used im or email. I have one coworker who only seems to believe in verbal communication and I would go so far as say it’s affected her reputation.

      1. FiveWheels*

        When in an open plan I can cope if EVERYONE is using the phone, or nobody… But if it’s just one or two at a time, so everyone can hear every word said? My idea of hell.

    9. Mookie*

      It wasn’t very long ago that *all* internal communication took place either face to face or by phone.

      Yeah, not really. Faxes and memos and internal messaging and post have existed for a very long time. It’s unlikely anyone alive and of working age remembers (first-hand) a time when this was not so.

      1. Mookie*

        I mean, this is a mostly grim and completely random example, but could the East India Company have done what it did (erm, genocide and all) without written communication? How could any business venture, really, exist? I mean, cloud-yelling about yoots and their newfangled flint tooks has a rich and varied history and is sometimes entertaining, but this is just a bizarre statement to me.

        1. Bibliovore*

          perhaps it is time for a chart (a decision tree?)- when to email, when to call, when to IM.
          I hate IM because I am rarely sitting at my computer with internet access for long stretches and when I sit down there is a request from an hour ago. I always think- “can’t you pick up a phone? I will hear the ring”

          I don’t mind voicemail because I can triage the responses and set aside time to respond in order of urgency.

          For me- three emails and its a phone call.

          Sensitive information that I don’t want subpoenaed? Its a phone call.

          Communication that needs a paper trail or specific instructions. Email.

            1. Megs*

              Hm, that chart recommends dodgy favors should be requested via handwritten message. I would not recommend that from a CYA perspective. Dodgy favors should never leave a paper trail.

          1. LD*

            Nice idea to have a decision tree! With a disclaimer because there are so many variations in situations that as soon as we make a chart, someone will come up with an exception!

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            I hate IM because I am rarely sitting at my computer with internet access for long stretches and when I sit down there is a request from an hour ago. I always think- “can’t you pick up a phone? I will hear the ring”

            Ironically, I would feel bad about calling you because I would be interrupting you. I’d prefer to IM because I don’t answer those immediately (nor phone texts) and I don’t expect others too, either.

          3. GreyjoyGardens*

            I remember, in my days doing admin work, typing up endless memos, having the boss or whoever initial the memos, copying the memos, and plodding from cube to cube sticking memos in every inbox. If FitBits had been invented then, I’d have racked up an impressive number of steps.

            And then there were the faxes – not fun in the days of thermal fax paper that came in rolls and were fiddly to replace – I was glad when I could just plop paper in a tray. THEN came the geniuses who circulated “fax jokes” and “fax facts” back before there was a Snopes to debunk them.

            I *heart* email and texting.

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            I remember the commercial with the guy hiding under his desk because whatever he sent didn’t get there in time. FedEx was considered a miracle in its day!

    10. OP #1*

      Just a quick note of clarification here: the person who called me was not technically a colleague of mine. She works for another company that shares our brand. When people from my own company call me without prior notification, I’m happy to field questions. (Although I do jump about a foot whenever my phone rings unexpectedly)

      And I have to reluctantly confess that the cold caller’s strategy worked really well: I dropped what I was doing and spent 45 minutes on the phone walking her through the complexities of our program operations. If she had emailed me, I would have waited until it was convenient for me to respond, and frankly, it wouldn’t have been at the top of my priority list (unless she told me that the roof was on fire).

      1. J.B.*

        With that context – her approach was effective for her and I can see why she used it. Especially when dealing with complicated stuff, I think it works best to introduce generally (either by email or voicemail) and then to follow up in more detail. This lets the person you’re asking for something wrap their brain about it. Most people appreciate this approach.

        Maybe you should come up with a script to keep your ability to do this in the future. And allowing calls to go to voicemail when you are in the middle of something is totally fine too. I will also note that I’ve taken an hour to walk someone through something, followed by that person seeming to forget everything I’d said. Irritating in the extreme! A go to script might help you protect your own time.

        1. baseballfan*

          Agreed; I generally prefer my calls to be scheduled, but a quick check-in or question asked is not unreasonable. But if you are going to need a substantial amount of someone’s time, for goodness sake please give them a little notice and time to prepare for the discussion.

          In this situation I totally would have said now is not an ideal time for this involved a conversation and suggested reconnecting in a few hours, or whatever made sense.

        2. OP #1*

          Yeah, I know. I totally should have, and that piece of it I own. The reason I wrote into Alison was because it’s so a-typical for me to receive a cold call from an outsider without at least an email intro that I was wondering whether if business norms had evolved. Apparently they haven’t – at least not to the extent where the cold-caller’s behavior would be considered a faux pas on summary judgement.

      2. BethRA*

        “the cold caller’s strategy worked really well”

        Well, people usually do do what works. To be honest, while I’m usually a bit phone-phobic myself, and have been known to pray for voicemail to pick up when I do use the phone, when something is time-sensitive I usually will try to call rather than email, since it’s more likely to get a quick response (or a response at all) . Even if that response is “let’s schedule something for later.”

        Keep in mind, too, that while you may see your organizations as separate entities, people in those entities may have a different view of how you’re all related.

    11. Gaia*

      1. And *which* generation is that? Because it isn’t millennials and it isn’t the unnamed generation coming after them. But no, it is cool. Make wide sweeping assumptions based on nothing but stereotypes.

    12. Judy*

      #3: OP would have to check for which clubs are available in their location. Here, there is one “breakfast” club at a restaurant in early morning, two approximately during lunch hours at locations that don’t have food, and a few others in the evenings, some at a restaurant with an optional meal time before the meeting. Some clubs are “restricted” clubs and require you to work for a particular company or attend a particular university, while others are “open” clubs.

      1. Izzy*

        I joined Toastmasters after I retired and wish I’d joined 10 or 15 years earlier. (Other members say the same thing.) I think my career would have been more successful, which would have totally paid for my time. In addition to improving my confidence and speaking ability, I am meeting people from all sorts of professions – it can also be a great networking opportunity, although that is not the purpose. Visitors are welcome. I’d recommend investing a few hours visiting some clubs. Just hope your boss doesn’t join the same club you do.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          I was forced to join Toastmasters at work as a part of the training program I was in, and the ability to network with people across the company was the most beneficial thing I got out of it. I haven’t been an active member in almost two years, but people from my company’s club still remember me and reach out to ask when I’ll be rejoining. (I won’t, but at least I know that when I’m in the market for a new internal position again, I have contacts I can hit up for assistance.)

            1. Christopher Tracy*

              My company’s club is very relaxed and very silly, so it wasn’t too bad. I just hate getting up in public and talking about myself. Talking about work? I can do that no problem. Getting onstage and talking in character while performing? I can do that too (though I have severe stage fright and generally become ill just before going on – ugh). But doing speeches as me according to a chosen theme or topic? Shoot me. Also, I loathed answering Table Topics (even though I enjoyed watching the others do it – we have some hilarious people working at my company).

              Basically, if it hadn’t been a requirement of my training program, and had I not been paid to attend (our meetings were during work hours), I never would have joined. It was way too stressful for me.

            2. sparklealways*

              I would try a community club before giving up on it altogether. Corporate clubs are definitely not for everyone and some companies that have corporate clubs really shouldn’t.

      2. Salyan*

        I was in Toastmasters for a couple of years after high school, and found it invaluable in learning to ‘slow down & speak up!’ (Think I should probably go back for a refresher.) I’d always hated any form of public speaking – especially off the cuff – but I learned to love Table Topics (especially when the rules do not preclude you from completely changing the original topic and talking about whatever you want to!). It can be a ton of fun!

    13. Kate M*

      Ah yes, the good old days of everyone using the phone. Just like when the phone was invented, it was the “good old days of actual correspondence and writing letters” and people were worried that writing would fall by the wayside, and that, ‘“Thanks to the telephone, motor-car and such-like inventions, our neighbors have it in their power to turn our leisure into a series of interruptions,” complained an American professor in 1929. ‘

      Same old story.

    14. Photoshop Til I Drop*

      FWIW, I hate talking on the phone, and I vivdly recall the Carter administration. The advent of texting was like a gift from the heavens.

    15. OP #1*

      Actually, at my old job which was only 3 years ago, people called each other all the time, but we all operated internally and were all centrally located within the same suite of office buildings. The Cold Caller doesn’t work for my company, she works for a Sister company that shares our branding, but is a completely separate corporation. So I don’t think this is a generational thing.

      But I did wonder if business culture* writ large is moving away from using phones for unscheduled communication, or if that’s just the norm of my current company. Which is why I wrote in to AAM for perspective.

      *As though “business culture” is a monolith – it’s obviously not

    16. Nervous Accountant*

      I don’t like the generational putdowns millenials bla bla bla, but I kind of have to agree with #1. I can’t imagine anyone in a work situation thinking it’s a breach of etiquette to CALL A COWORKER!!! I’m mind boggled at that.

      1. OP #1*

        But this isn’t a co-worker. Cold Caller works for a separate company that shares our brand. Agree that cold-calling a co-worker (although not common practice in my company) is totally fair game.

    17. INTP*

      #1: I don’t think this is just about being voice-averse. I think it’s pretty basic etiquette to ask someone if they have time for a conversation before launching into it if you need more than 5 minutes of their time. When I was recruiting, I would always ask, “Do you have 15 minutes to talk?” if I called for a phone screen. I work remotely, and my boss always asks if I have however long to talk if she calls me about something specific. It’s just basic manners to give someone an out before beginning the conversation instead of putting the awkward act of cutting you off mid-conversation when they realize you want more of their time on them. This is so standard in my experience that to not do it seems a bit misleading – if someone doesn’t warn me that it might take awhile and ask if it’s a good time, I assume they only have a question or two.

      Granted, I was not in the workforce before texting or IMing existed. But I can still differentiate between a coworker calling me to ask a question (totally acceptable) and a coworker bombarding me with a series of detailed questions without warning and without giving me an out in case it’s a busy moment (less acceptable).

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        That’s a good point. When I’m forced to call people for more than a short answer, I do ask if it’s a good time to talk. Would that have made it feel less rude/intrusive?

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, I think this is the best thing. It’s actually how I was taught to do it.

          Now granted, I have called people to set up a time to chat before and had them say “Oh it’s fine; what did you need?” That happened when I cold-called a lawyer once to ask a question for my book. I would have gladly made an appointment for a conference call and that’s what I said–she answered the phone herself, too, which kind of threw me for a loop! I expected to get a receptionist or a secretary or something. (But it was her decision to help me right then. I guess I caught her during a slack moment, LOL.)

          I made sure to email her later and thank her. She was very nice. :)

    18. Observer*

      You work in an open office with 100 people in it, and you think that there is something wrong with the fact that the phones are not ringing off the hook? Seriously? If I had to come up with a single scenario to “explain” the rise of text based computer / phone communications, this would be it.

      Have you thought for one minute of how much productivity would plummet if most people spend a significant amount of their time taking and placing calls? With that many people, the noise level would be impossible.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I didn’t take it as that she thought it was wrong–just that the open office made it really easy to see how dramatic the change was.

      2. Vicki*

        Also, think about those inane people who think we should have voice operated computers. Imagine those in a current “open plan”.

      3. Vicki*

        The cube farms I’ve worked in have been unproductive due to telephone noise (making me want to go back in time to “do something about” the person who invented the speaker phone”).

        I worked in one cube farm where a sales guy in the next row was physically incapable of carrying on a phone sitting down. He’s stand up and pace, putting his head (and voice) above the wall.

        The office telephone, in any office environment that doesn’t have doors, is an instrument of the fill-in-the-blank-evil-spirits (and I’ve been known to gently close open office doors on people making speaker phone calls).

    19. Vicki*

      Agreed with Mel. I’m happy to tell you that I (57 yrs old, techie, 30+ years in “real” jobs) am part of that “no-direct-voice-contact generation” of which you speak.

      (lowers voice to a whisper, barely audible over a phone) “we’re everywhere.”

  2. Engineer Girl*

    #3 – If you are a professional then it is expected that you will spend a certain amount of time each year to improve and upgrade your skill set. This is many times on your own time and dime. The payoff is being better positioned for new job opportunities. This is true for both government and private employers.
    If your employer pays for these improvement opportunities then it is bonus points.

    1. finderskeepers*

      Most large engineering companies pay for their employees to receive new training. Paying $1000 for a one day training (if you are lucky it is in town and doesn’t require travel) is not reasonable to expect an employee to do.

      1. Izzy*

        Toastmasters isn’t nearly that expensive. You can visit as many times as you like for free. If you join (you have to be a member to give speeches), there are dues that vary by club. Mine are in the vicinity of $50 every six months. Some members travel to regional and national conferences. Those do get expensive with registration, travel and lodging, but only a small percentage go to them. I consider it a bargain. But then, it was my idea. Nobody suggested I go. I would probably resent that too, but don’t let that stop you from considering something you might like and benefit from. IMHO. There I go being like your boss, and I don’t even know you, sorry.

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          You can visit as many times as you like for free.

          Unless they’ve changed their rules (or the rules are different in the US), when I checked it out a few years ago, you could only attend for free three times. I looked at two different clubs and they both said the same thing. It’s worth going to a few because I noticed that there were differences in tone — one was very serious, the other they laughed more and seemed more fun-loving. Also, there is a membership fee which is under $200 (Can). I think they shut down for July and August up here and resume in September, it’s not a full year’s commitment.

          I’m with EngineerGirl (and a few others). Your manager has told you that in order to get ahead, you need to work on your presentation skills. They suggested Toastmasters, which has been around for several decades so it isn’t some fly-by-night thing. Yes, it would be a time commitment on your part and that is up to you whether or not you want to pursue it. If you know of another or better way to improve that would be fully on company time and paid for by them, then propose that. Maybe it’s as simple as you lead all the weekly schedule meetings for 3 months. Maybe it’s you developing some sort of training for your colleagues about some procedure your organisation (how to use Excel?) Trust me when I say this, professional speaking coaches charge a lot of money.

          FWIW, I received similar feedback from my manager at $LastJob. I was told straight out that if I wanted to design teapots, I should take a course at LocalCollege. There were several problems with that, first I had graduated from LocalCollege (and I said so at the time). Second, I commuted an hour one-way to get to $LastJob so my time was at a premium. Third, $LastJob frequently had unexpected last-minute work (can’t call it overtime, if you don’t get paid for it) that could go into the wee hours — I knew of a few people who had signed up for things (including life) that they couldn’t attend because of that. I didn’t see the point of paying for something that I wouldn’t have time to do only so that I could fail it. Of course, the underlying message was “you are never going to advance here” which turned out to be the case, so there’s that.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        This simply isn’t true. There’s always a limited budget. Yes, they will pay for training in some new technology that they are going to already implement. But its up to you as an individual to take other courses to stay current too.
        I found that I combined a lot of it. Some things my employer paid for, many things I did on my own time. I also utilized the free courses available at my work. These were “free” but I had to do them on my own time.
        BTW, I was at a very large engineering firm.

    2. Brett*

      It gets a bit more complicated for local government. While it is part of being a professional to spend that time improving and upgrading your skill set, there are ethical issues involved in paying for your own training, particular if you are a decision maker on bids and contracts.

      Simple explanation, if you pay for your own training then government has no control over where the funding comes from for that training. Because of this issue, when I worked for county government as an exempt employee I was required to request permission for all training (including free training), even if occurring after normal work hours. The permission could be informal, i.e. just asking your boss, if it was free. Paid training, training which required an overnight trip, or training lasting more than 8 hours required a formal permission request signed off by the county executive regardless of when it took place. The formal permission required a detailed explanation of where all funding was coming from for the training, even if out of your own pocket. If you decided to take night classes and pay the tuition out of pocket, it had to go through the county executive. Most out of pocket training that required formal permission was rejected; either the county paid for it or you did not go. Non-exempt employees had different rules as long as no work hours or overnight travel were involved.

      The penalty for not following the procedures was normally small: the county would not recognize the training on your employee record and would not pay any subsequent costs such as tuition reimbursement. Higher sanctions were available though, including suspension without pay and termination (e.g. if a vendor paid for your training by giving you normally paid training for free).

      My former employee had a lot of weird policies (especially around ethics), but these sort of training policies were common for local government entities in our region and state.

  3. Library Director*

    #1 I really don’t like talking on the phone, but I don’t see this as cold calling. It was someone from the same corporation calling and asking questions about a work issue. Since you are knowledgeable about the topic it makes sense. It’s much better than just dropping by. It’s harder to say “I cannot discuss it in depth, but can call you” when someone is standing in front of you.

    #3 You told an area in which you need to improve your job performance. A suggestion was made on how that could occur. The method you choose is up to you, but it is your responsibility to take action to sharpen these skills.

    1. Sparrow*

      I wonder if OP #1 would’ve had such a strong reaction if the caller just had a quick question instead of a series of detailed ones. It sounds like the person was asking for a fair bit of time and information, so it seems to me that emailing ahead would’ve been the more thoughtful and productive way to do this.

      1. BRR*

        I don’t mind the phone but I’m with you that it sounds like it was a long conversation. Without physical cues it’s tough to tell if the lw was in a position to have a long conversation and it might have been helpful to give a heads up so the lw could have had answers prepared.

      2. Purest Green*

        When I realize a work call like this is going to be more in-depth and lengthy than I can manage at the time, if it’s appropriate I try to say something like:

        “You know, since this is getting very detailed, it might be more helpful to you if you could email your questions so that I can answer them more thoroughly and you can refer back to them.”

        Sometimes, things just require a conversation, but the above usually makes people realize what a better idea email would have been in the first place.

        1. Vicki*

          I’ve had co-workers reply to my email with “This is long and detailed. How about if I call you?”

          And I always need to spend some time to come up with a polite way of replying, “if it’s long and detailed, please don’t call and make me take comprehensive notes one handed while I hold the phone and try to understand what you’re saying.”

    2. OP #1*

      The Cold Caller does not work for my company, but works within my industry for a company that shares our brand. I don’t bristle when folks from my own company call me out of the blue.

      1. Kate M*

        Right, but I think the point is that it’s still not an etiquette faux pas to call anyone as a first means of contact. Sure, it might be getting more common to email first (and what I prefer), but that’s still not a norm across the board. But if they do call, it’s always fine to say “hey, I’m in the middle of something now, but email me some times you have free to talk and I’ll get back to you.” But I wouldn’t bristle about anyone calling first, it’s just something that happens.

      2. Murphy*

        As another data point, I work for government and its not unusual or poor etiquette to pick up the phone and call another government to get information on a program they may have. If I have contacts in that government I’m definitely go there first, but if I don’t and get your name from a paper or directory, yeah, I’m going to call.

      3. thunderbird*

        If your phone number/extension are publicly available, or noted somewhere as a means to contact you, that suggests that contacting you by phone is an available option for any reason.

      4. ATXFay*

        Maybe this is me being paranoid.. but… if this is someone who you are not familiar with, and although you have a common brand but do not work with directly, how do you know that they were who they say they were? When someone unfamiliar calls and asks invasive or detailed questions, it makes my spidey senses perk up. It’s really easy for someone to call and say “Yes, I’m COO Bigglesworth at Teapots Corporation”, but without something to truly trace it back to (i.e., I would be hesitant to go into details about our policies, procedures, program design.. or anything, really. I’ve been on both sides of the fake inquiry (early on in my career my boss had me call competing venues to try to get details on their programs, pricing, tech support, etc), so I can see where it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities that someone may call and pose as someone they’re not. Unless you are in a role where you are used to these sort of questions coming through, which I’m assuming your not or else you’d get more calls like this one, I would make my stand to “please send me an email”. Just a thought (and completely unrelated to your question.. sorry!)

  4. NicoleK*

    #1 I work for a large corporation too. In my role, it’s common for partners, associates, stakeholders, and colleagues in other states to cold call me. I’ll probably never meet 50% of the folks that call me.

    #2 If your employees are unable to resolve the issue amongst themselves then it’s time for you to step in. Telling them to be professional and ignore it is going to alienate someone. I had an issue with a former coworker at Old Job. After my attempts to resolve it myself failed, I went to our boss. Boss essentially ignored the problem. I got fed up and left the company.

    #3 Sounds like it was a suggestion, not an order or expectation. Think of it as an investment in yourself.

    #4 Employers are typically understanding when you uproot your life to take a job in a different state.

    #5 Too many different variables. Depends on your industry, how experienced your employees are, your management style, the type of work your employees do, and how much support each employee needs.

    1. Bookworm*

      I agree with you on #3. I’m guessing this was more a comment on something that might benefit OP in the long-term, rather than a change that they need to see in the current role.

    2. LibraryChick*

      I wanted to essentially say the same thing NicoleK did about #2. I would like to add that the bullying behavior has likely been ongoing. Usually employees will wait until they are incredibly frustrated or ready to just quit before approaching a manager about the problem, especially if the manager has been very hands-off.

  5. Bellatrix*

    “I told all of them, in their separate meetings, that unless they wanted to make an official complaint, then there wasn’t a great deal I could do, but that they should all be as professional as possible and ignore it.”
    I wonder why you said that. At this point there’s really nothing preventing you from investigating further and acting on that information – yes, you can absolutely order a bullying employee (if that’s the case) to stop without needing an official complaint made. For a lot of people, even speaking up to their boss is scary enough so I don’t understand why you’re making it harder. Regardless of what your company policies lay out for official complaints, there are plenty of management tools you can use outside that procedure.
    Ditto on getting a mediator. If you were bullied at school, just picture being told you need to make an effort to get along with your attacker and than be forced to meet with them regularly. Does that help you in any way when they’re taking your lunch money? No? I guess you’re not trying hard enough to get along and you’ll need more mediation.

    1. Myrin*

      Absolutely this. I was bullied at school when I was eleven and when I finally told a teacher (who was also the school’s mediator, btw), she shut that shit down hard and immediately and it never happened again (the bullies even apologised, albeit dishonestly, and while I’ll never forgive them, I could live with them afterwards).

    2. Purest Green*

      Yup. PA#3 needed to hear, “I’ll definitely look into this. Thank you for telling me.” Even if PA#1 and #2 aren’t bullies and there’s some huge misunderstanding, employees need to know their manager will take their concerns seriously and act, if needed.

    3. Kate M*

      Right, and the fact that the first two employees have done the same thing before makes me kind of doubt their story. I mean, they could be telling the truth and just gotten stuck with two horrible coworkers at different times, but I would definitely investigate further. If the two employees are the problem and you tell everyone to just “work it out” amongst themselves, all that’s going to accomplish is that the two employees are going to keep driving other employees away, and you might lose good workers. If the single coworker is actually the problem (and the other single employee was the problem the last time too), then all you’re telling the two employees is that you’re never going to actually deal with their difficult coworkers. Not a good thing on either side.

      It’s definitely time to step up and manage.

      1. Michelle*

        Agree 100% with Kate M.

        You, OP #2, are the MANAGER, so please, MANAGE. What did advice did you give the first time PA1 and PA2 came to you? Be professional and ignore it? If so, that is most likely the reason the original PA3 quit.

        Please don’t be afraid to manage your staff.

    4. Meg*

      In fact, as a manager it is actually your responsibility to respond to issues when you become aware of them whether or not your employees make a “formal complaint.” For example, if you are a manager and you witness sexual harassment and you do nothing about it because your employee hasn’t made a “formal complaint,” in some states, you can be held personally liable. As a manager, you have a responsibility to find out what is really going on and address the problem.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I just want to repeat this:
        “it is actually your responsibility to respond to issues when you become aware of them whether or not your employees make a “formal complaint.”

        There are other people there (these assistants whose morale is being damaged), so start investigating.

  6. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    I actually disagree with Alison’s advice on #1 a bit. I think what stuck out to me was that the person called “to ask me a series of detailed questions”. Depending on the nature of the details, it might be nice to have a heads up about the call, so that one could prepare for it. I don’t think it’s a problem to call someone up cold and ask a question, but a series of detailed questions might put them on the spot. If I were the one making the call, I’d expect that they may not have all the answers at the tip of their finger and may need to either do research or review a couple things to get me the information that I need.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I absolutely agree that I wouldn’t do it either, but I do think it’s a pretty common thing for people to do and can’t really be seen as terribly rude.

      1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*


        It’s not rude, it’s just not efficient, but it’s easy as pie to manage. People would do this to me all day long if I let it happen.

        All you have to do is control the conversation. “Gosh, Ross, I would love to chat but the Wenus Report deadline is right on top of me. Can you shoot me an email with an outline of what you need? I’ll email you back tomorrow or, if we still need to talk, can we schedule a call for this week based on your questions?”

        Once you make up in your mind that you own your own time and you are responsible to your employer for the time they are paying you for, these are the softball situations that are easy to manage.

    2. Rafe*

      Well — but there is also a component here of the OP having either written or being fundamental enough to the research and development of a white paper to have her name on it. She reasonably would be considered pretty much an expert to go to — internally in the organization, and externally too (I’m thinking of reporters, who do email and set times to talk but who to this day still pretty much cold call). Certainly individuals have personal preferences, but it’s probably somewhat a job expectation for a person on the white paper to take detailed “cold calls,” especially from within the same company.

      1. Colette*

        It’s quite likely required that she have detailed conversations with colleagues, but cold calls is still an inefficient way of doing that. She should still be able to set up a time to talk rather than dropping everything, assuming there’s no urgent business need.

      2. OP #1*

        The irony is that this actually was a very efficient way for the Cold Caller to get information from me. Had she emailed me her list of detailed questions, I would have put her request in the long queue of my to-do list, and since she doesn’t actually work for my company, the priority would be low. By cold calling me, she got 45 minutes of my time and could ask me all the follow up questions she wanted to.

        BUT what she should have done is emailed me to introduce herself and ask if she could call me at X O’clock so that I could clear a space in my calendar. And that is exactly what I should have told her to do, rather than enabling her and then stewing about it.

        1. MissGirl*

          I don’t know there’s a “should” here. You have a preferred mode of communication, she has hers. Nobody is in the wrong. Perhaps she didn’t know the detailed length of your answers. She did what was best for her workload and it falls on you to do what’s best for yours.

          There’s nothing inherent wrong with reaching out via phone first and you could’ve scheduled another call on the phone or asked to call her back. It doesn’t need to be tossed back to email where you say it would be ignored anyhow. Good on you for helping her out despite the bad timing.

        2. Gaara*

          Yeah. If you actually needed time to prepare or another time would have been better, it was on you to say that. Maybe her questions were urgent and maybe they weren’t, but since you didn’t tell her you had a conflict, you’ll never know. Chalk it up to a lesson learned.

        3. LD*

          Yes, that sounds right. I think many of us have had the experience of agreeing to a conversation that turned out to be more complicated and longer than we anticipated, and then we beat ourselves up for not thinking to say something about it…like others have suggested: “This is getting more complicated than I have time for right now. Can we set up a call for later?” We even fall for the other person saying, “But just one more question.”
          The caller might not have known how long it would take to get her initial and then follow-up questions answered, but it wasn’t rude for her to initiate contact by telephone. Don’t blame either one of you for your actions. Remind yourself that you’re not at fault for not thinking in the moment how to extricate yourself from what both of you might originally have assumed would be a brief conversation. Think of it as a learning experience so you maybe you’ll be better prepared the next time it happens. And try not to keep stewing about it! (everyone does it but it’s not helpful unless you use it to create astrategy for handling it next time!)

        4. Observer*

          Your second paragraph is right on. Your colleague didn’t do much wrong. At this point, it only became a problem because you let it.

          I’d say “Lesson learned.” I’d be willing to bet that there WILL be a next time. So, next time, if someone calls you for more than a quickie question, politely and firmly decline to answer immediately, and instead set up a time with the caller.

        5. animaniactoo*

          I would cut yourself a bit of slack here – in the moment, you had no idea that she was going to have 10 more questions to follow up the first 3. If she’d stuck to the first 3, you probably wouldn’t have been nearly so annoyed it sounds like.

          The issue is that she called you out of the blue for a long detailed conversation without indicating that it was, and imo that is pretty rude. On the other hand, it’s also possible that she didn’t know she was going to have 10 followup questions – those questions only occurred as she started to get answers, and she didn’t realize the answers would be so complex or vague.

          I also wouldn’t kick yourself for not having stopped her – if you haven’t come across this before, you haven’t developed a script/defense against it. Now you have, and now you can start instituting some boundaries that make sense to you.

          So say, at the beginning of a call, you ask if this is a quick question or two and if they say yes, you go ahead and answer then. If they say no, you ask them to e-mail you to set up a time to talk because you don’t have time to do this right now.

          As a backup (because it can happen) if they say yes it’s quick, but it keeps spiraling then you’ll give someone in this situation 5 or 10 minutes; and after that you say “This is getting pretty long and I’m in the middle of stuff right now. I can answer one more question for you right now, and if there’s more after that, e-mail me to set up a time to talk, okay?” If possible you would set up the later time to talk right then but if you really need to consult your calendar for more than a minute to figure that out, then you do and you stand by that.

        6. GreyjoyGardens*

          I agree that you shouldn’t beat yourself up – file the experience under “lesson learned.”

          I’m thinking of the discussion the other day on work tickets and people who try to get around them; it’s possible that this lady thinks that email is where requests go to die, so to speak. By calling, she can corner someone on the phone and get the answers right away.

          I think it’s somewhat rude to call out of the blue and expect someone to drop everything and spend 45 minutes on the phone with you, without a heads-up. An email in advance is the most polite way to go – “hey, Wakeen, I am going to need about 45 minutes of your time to discuss the gold-plated teapots that Tywin Lannister has ordered. When next week is good for you? Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons are best for me.”

          But if I kept landing in an email black hole when I made my requests, I’d probably call, even though I dislike the phone. Maybe that’s what happened in the past with your caller, and she’s now in the habit of cornering people via the phone so that she will get her answers.

          1. TootsNYC*

            ” it’s possible that this lady thinks that email is where requests go to die, so to speak.”

            And by our OP #1’s admission, that’s where her request would have gone. OK, not to die, but to languish for a while.

        7. Snargulfuss*

          I find your point of view oddly hierarchical (or maybe that’s not the right word, formal perhaps). If I have a question for a colleague that I know will take more than a minute for them to answer via email, I call them up instead of expecting them to write out a long, detailed response via email. Out of politeness I state my question and ask if it’s a good time to talk. If it’s not, it’s on them to let me know that they can’t speak at the moment.

          I interned once at a place where I was told not to reach out to someone unless I had been introduced by someone higher up first. I thought it was really weird, especially since my job as an intern was to interview a bunch of people within the organization and compile a report.

  7. neverjaunty*

    “You’d have to make an official complaint, and in the meantime ignore it”, like “don’t show the bullies they’re bothering you”, is an old standby for authority figures who don’t wish to be bothered, and want to send a very clear message not to waste time asking them for help or guidance.

    1. Art_ticulate*

      Yes, thank you! I’m baffled by this letter, particularly where they express concern that they’re going to lose other employees in the future. Um, yes, of course you are if people don’t feel like they can come to you because you’re just going to tell them to ignore a toxic atmosphere. You’re the manager, so manage and put a stop to this.

        1. TootsNYC*

          A verbal attack works well, but you have to be REALLY authoritative and directly aggressive. No hint of whining or tears.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      I would say that they *have* made an official complaint. They came to their manager to complain of being bullied by two other employees, and gave names. So I’m not sure what is involved in a formal complaint – presumably going to HR to complain both of being bullied, and of their manager refusing to address the issue.

      If the bullying is persistent enough and nasty enough, then I could see the PA deciding that this is simply the way this workplace is, and putting up with it until they get a new job.

      1. neverjaunty*

        You’re right – but by phrasing this as ‘you need to make an official complaint’, what the LW is saying is that she refuses to intervene unless Jane wants to make it a big enough deal to involve HR and possibly higher-up managers. It’s brinksmanship, really; is this important enough for you to risk the fallout of continuing to raise this issue?

        1. nonegiven*

          Sounds like Parvati from the other day. Couldn’t bring herself to correct people who called her Polly. Manager needs to handle this, too.

  8. Matt*

    #1: it’s a matter of company culture – at my place it’s common that everyone calls everybody about everything out of the blue, and on top of all that it’s expected that you answer all calls when you’re at you’re desk; ignoring a call because you’re working on something in intense concentration is considered a mortal sin … I loathe this since I’m responsible for multiple projects as a developer and if the phone rings every five minutes, I’m expected to “switch projects” in this interval to accomodate the callers … I’m definitely one of those who wish that people would use more email and less phone.

  9. RobM*

    #1 – I’m very much the kind of person who would rather do business by email for a variety of reasons, but none-the-less, it’s perfectly normal for people inside the business to get in touch with you for all kinds of reasons and it’s perfectly normal for some people to make that first contact via the telephone; either because they think things will go faster that way or because just as some of us prefer email, some others prefer the phone.

    If they’re contacting you because you’re down as one of the authors of a whitepaper which contains useful information for managing/keeping a client then I would say that you should accept this as a compliment of sorts – you’re seen as an authority in a useful area for your business.

    All this isn’t to say that you can’t manage your time when called on the phone, you don’t have to drop everything just because the phone rang. You can explain that you’re happy to help but busy right now, give them your email address and ask them to email you the details of their query and then follow on from there. Provided you’re diligent about following up (and accept that some people will still want to do it by phone and compromise with those people) you can build a great reputation out of this without spending all your time on the phone.

  10. Jen RO*

    I’ve gotten exactly one cold call in my 6+ years in this company, and it was related to an IT ticket I had logged. (It was the first and last one – I think people told IT management that they preferred to be contacted via email.)

    I wouldn’t find it exactly rude if a coworker called me out of the blue… but I would definitely *not* like it. I am happy to be working somewhere where the culture is that any call, no matter how brief, is prefaced by a “can I call you?” on Lync.

    1. UK JAM*

      We have the exact same culture with Lync, and I think it would be considered pretty rude here if someone from another department bypassed that and called directly. The only ‘cold’ calls we get are from clients, prospects or salespeople on the road.

    2. OP #1*

      Yes, that’s how we approach things too. The etiquette is to send an IM asking if it’s OK to call. The Cold Caller doesn’t work for my company though, so she can’t access our IM system. I think I made a mistake in nomenclature calling her a “colleague.” She’s an industry colleague, but not a co-worker of mine.

      1. CMT*

        If she’s outside your company, how is she going to know what the culture is? I think you’re being a little drastic by saying she’s rude. She’s not rude; her norms are just different from yours.

    3. Purest Green*

      I love that our IT tickets have a preferred method of communication option. Unfortunately for our help-desk personnel, one of those options is “in-person visit.”

    4. Lady Blerd*

      I hate talking on my personal phone but I have no problem with work phone calls, even cold calls for info. I’ve done it myself many times. What annoys me is if it was a question that is about basic work knowledge or could answered with a quick search in our régulations.

  11. Allie*

    For LW1: I work in an area where both my phone and email are widely distributed and I think I generally get cold called on files versus initial.emails about 40% of the time. I have had the experience of where emails back and forth scheduling a phone call can end up taking more time than the phone call itself. For urgent issues, sometimes it is much more expedient to just pick up the phone. Sometimes there are things that take a long time to put in an email but are easier to say in a phone conversation and I have found phone follow ups on emails to be effective on an issue that is getting dragged out over email.

    If you do cold call, I think it is good for the caller to make clear the scope and subject matter of the conversation early on, But that if the recipient answers and it isn’t a good time, it is on the recipient to speak up and ask to reschedule.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      +1, re scheduling a call taking up more time than a call can – and emailing can also be super-inefficient too, if you know that you’ll have follow-up questions – especially if it’s info the person needs in a short timeframe

  12. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I would have been cross with the cold-call in #1. A quick chat is fine, but a call on some detailed questions needs time set aside for it and possibly preparation. A cold Outlook invitation setting time for a call, or a quick email heads-up to ask when was a good time to call would have been far more ‘normal’ in my organisation.

    1. Random Lurker*

      But nothing stops you, or OP1, from simply saying, “I’m tied up in an issue right now. Can we setup some time to chat later this week? Or send me an email?” It seems to me that very simple request takes a lot less energy than being cross or upset.

      1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        True, but I guess the sudden call is still an interruption. I do quite detailed and involved work which needs concentration, as do most of my colleagues, and we wouldn’t, therefore, ‘cold call’ each other.

        1. Allie*

          Although sometimes interrupting can be necessary. If someone needs something urgently, often a phone call gets a faster answer and expresses the urgency of getting that information. Sometimes, that’s the point.

        2. doreen*

          I think on some level people need to manage their own interruptions rather than expecting others to know their preferred method of communication and believing that their preference is ” The Right Way” and anything else is rude. It’s not rude for Percy to call you on the phone if you prefer email just like it’s not rude for you to email Percy if he prefers the phone. If the phone ringing is going to interrupt you, then turn the ringer down and let the calls go to voicemail or unplug the phone or whatever. If the email notification flashing across the bottom of your screen is going to interrupt you, then turn it off. Sure, if there’s a company culture to schedule every call then people should generally do that, but I expect most of these issues arise where there is not a strong company culture in either direction. ( At my employer, it would be bizarre to initially schedule any calls other than conference calls. Sometimes other calls end up being scheduled after a round of phone tag, or after email has proved to be inefficient but it doesn’t start as a scheduled phone call.)

      2. OP #1*

        Yes, exactly, I totally own that half of the equation: there was nothing stopping me from saying “I’m busy right now, can we set up some time to talk later this afternoon?” Next time…

  13. Caledonia*

    As for #1 sometimes it’s just easier to phone than to email. You can get more of a dialogue going. Some things are harder to explain in print than they are verbally.

  14. FatBigot*

    #1: How do you verify that the cold caller is in fact who they say they are, and is entitled to the information they request?

    This kind of social engineering, especially in a very large organization is a classic way of getting hold of company secrets. One famous Independent Television (ITV) executive would find out the BBC’s program scheduling plans by phoning the corporation and saying “This is the Director of Programming South West, please put me through to the Television Scheduling Manager”, and simply asking for the (at that point secret) future programming plans. Knowing that the BBC at the time was a huge bureaucracy, a fictitious job title and a plausible telephone manner were all that was needed to gain this critical information on the plans of the main competitor. The BBC could never figure out how ITV seemed to know the BBC plans in advance.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Have you read The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick? He is a hacker / social engineer turned security consultant and the book is full of stories like that, its been a while since I read it but it is very interesting.

    2. Allie*

      Interesting – in my office the phone shows different information for an internal versus external call and the internal ID of the person calling. It has warned us that email addresses can be cloned or misleading, so we’re taught in training to call someone if an email seems fishy to make sure it is actually them.

    3. Frances*

      Yes! I’ve seen presentations on unethical approaches to competitive intelligence and this kind of phone spoofing is one way to gather information in an underhanded way.

      Regarding OP #1’s question, it is not unusual to cold call someone. I agree with some other commenters that it is good manners to start off with asking if the person who answers the phone has a few minutes to talk prior to starting in with a discussion. It shows that you respect their time and that you know they have not just been eagerly waiting by the phone all day for your call.

  15. Voice from the wilderness*

    #2 I would find a free desk by the quarreling threesome, forward my calls to that desk and do my work via Remote Desktop.

    I’d tell them that I want to help resolve their issues, and then observe.

    I’d sit there for a couple of hours at a time, at different times of day, so that it wouldn’t always be the same time.

    I’d also have follow up talks with them, making the point that mature, professionalism means being able to work productively with people, even if you don’t particularly care for them.

    Also, I’d let them know that being a babysitter is a bad use of your time, and that if they don’t get their act together, some changes will be made.

    This should be an implied threat to take action. In my experience, when I insist on professionalism, the employee responds. One can always fire or transfer later.

    I believe that showing the flag, making your physical presence known, as well as letting them know what your firm expectations are, can get results.

    The idea isn’t only to solve this problem, but to avoid the dame problem with the next PA also.

  16. UK Nerd*

    I was also advised by my manager to join a Toastmasters club. It never occurred to me to ask to be paid for that time! What the company did do was pay my joining fee and first 6 months membership. I think that’s reasonable to ask for, although a government organisation might not be able to do that.

    Please don’t let your hurt feelings put you off trying something you might find really positive. I liked it so much I’m still a member 10 years later.

    1. Random Lurker*

      I loved Toastmasters! It helped me and I made some good business connections. I hope OP3 can see this as an opportunity rather than a punishment (or however they are viewing it).

  17. Queenie*

    3. My only worry would be if your manager told you to get X training or join Y club and made it part of your yearly objectives yet expected you to do it out of pocket and in your own time. I’m assuming this isn’t the case here?

  18. F.*

    #2: Telling the bulled person to ignore it is just going to cause the bullying to escalate. I’ve been bullied much of my life. I know. In my case, I abruptly quit a job when my bully physically assaulted me after weeks of verbal abuse, telling others dangerous untruths about me, and getting others to shun me. Despite my bruises, management refused to do anything at all, so I quit the next morning.

    As for interviewing other employees about the three employees in question, if there really is a bullying situation going on, none of the other employees will want to say anything out of fear of becoming the next victim. You, as a manager, have to decide whether you are going to let these petty tyrants continue to terrorize other employees. You already have all of the evidence you need if you lost one employee to it and now have another saying they are being bullied, too.

    1. LD*

      I’m so sorry this happened to you. I wouldn’t assume that your manager or your company is the final authority on what happened to you and I hope you are able to pursue legal action if that makes sense to you for your situation. Remember, physical assault is a crime and should be reported to the police, not just your management.

    2. Camellia*

      You were physically assaulted??? Did you call the police? Were there no witnesses willing to speak for you? I can see that others might be afraid to speak up but if the police were called in they might have been able to do something.

      This is horrifying. I can’t even…

      1. M-C*

        +1. If there are bruises, the police should be involved, this is beyond bad management. Especially if you’re willing to quit over it, as you have nothing further to lose. And let me point out that most workplaces have cameras all over these days, so there are built-in witnesses to any physical altercation.

        That said, I realize it’s probably too late for F. to do anything about it, and I absolutely do not mean to blame the victim here, the victim does the best they can as it happens..

  19. KR*

    #1… So I much prefer email as well, and I don’t like calling people out of the blue because I feel like I’m bothering them. Sometimes though, my boss tells me to just “Get on the horn” with them and not to bother with an email because he doesn’t want to wait for the answer. So the employee might have been asked to specifically call you, not email you.

  20. Anon Accountant*

    #2 Please investigate further into this. There may be 2 employees who are bullying others and the former employee may have been bullied until she left. There may be other employees who are bullied but won’t come forward or there may be a personality clash.

    But please don’t discount the possibility that 2 employees can band together and push someone out the door.

    1. LoFlo*

      I was in the same situation at last job. One co-worker in particular would stir the pot and get other people on her side. She insisted that her co-workers be her friend, and meddle in everything. She would run to the manager and tattle on everybody for an hour every day about how somebody said something, sighed, rolled thier eyes, etc. She was also a self proclaimed OCD perfectionist, and other people that didn’t proclaim her level perfectionism didn’t care about their work. Our manager was so out of his depth, he believed every thing she said because she was his eyes and ears. He refused for years to acknowledge her behavior, and his office was next to our desks! Even when he would observe her bad behavior first hand, he would say he didn’t see anything wrong with it. Over time the situation was so bad, other employees called in HR and they mediated. It was hell. We had to complete behavior surveys on each other. Do team building events that were awkward, take DISC profiles, etc…..nothing was ever resolved. An incredible waste of time, and it just made the situation worse, because the pot stirrers got the attention they wanted and doubled down.

      Investigate now. The complainers try to make themselves look good by making the other person look bad. You can’t un-hear these complaints, and they could be undermining a perfectly good employee. You could separate the employees and see how the new person interacts with others.

      1. TN*

        I dealt with this. First day of the job, the two started on me. Didn’t even get to say “hey” before they laid into me and the Office Manager wanted to be part of their click so bad, she abated them. I didn’t know these girls from adam, get to know me before you hate me. They had a pattern of this and the office allowed this. I finally told the boss over the office manager and walked off the job after 2 months of this. I thought it’d be a dream job but these two made it a nightmare. No one stood up to these 2. They all knew but were scared of being a target. I had to sit next to them and just couldn’t take it. They last a good employee (how many others also) due to allowing this.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I worked at a place where this happened. Got a new manager, and a couple of people brought their concerns about other employees to her, and she accepted the criticisms at face value and immediately started reprimanding, etc.

      So those employees realized they could get away with it, and they just slowly kept it up. Suddenly the new manager had drama everywhere. I ended up being in the crosshairs. Legitimate minor issues suddenly became a big issue, and every comment I might make to a colleague got back to her SO fast, with absolutely the most negative slant.

      Shortly before I left, she actually called me in and told me she’d realized that there was a hugely gossiping culture, and thanked me for not providing it fuel. I didn’t say, but I thought, that she’d helped create it because she gave the gossips an ear. And reinforcement by acting promptly on whatever they brought her.

  21. Bianca*

    I almost wrote in a question similar to number 3 and so I am interested in Alison’s answer to that one. My boss wanted me to learn a new skill and asked me to find a course on it. The only one available happened during the day, but was not far from my office. I told my boss, and she said I would have to make up the work hours I was gone from the office.

    I felt like that was a really raw deal. I had taken courses in the past (without getting paid for the hours) but those were my choice….I wasn’t asked specifically to learn those things. I thought it was pretty unfair for them to request I get trained in something new but were going to make me work after hours to make up the time spent away from the office. And that does not even count time spent on homework. Why is this fair? My other colleagues at my level were not asked to do this…my boss asked me because she thought I would be the most successful. I ended up not doing it because I told my boss I could not work an extra hour each day because it did not work with my schedule. I am non exempt.

    1. F.*

      Your company does not have to pay for your time to take the training. You say this was a “request” because your boss thought you would be the most successful. It sounds like your boss was trying to prep you for a possible promotion, why not go for it? Knowledge is an investment in yourself that no one can take away. Even if it doesn’t work out at your current employer, you can still take that knowledge and go to work for another employer.

      1. chocolate lover*

        Bianca mentioned it didn’t fit in her schedule. I agree that knowledge is valuable and can be moved forward to other jobs, but just because an employer wants it doesn’t mean the employee does, or at least not enough to rearrange his or her personal time to do it. Example, at the moment I have some medical issues I need to address that take significant time and emotional energy. I would say no to requests for chunks of my personal time for work’s benefit, even if it also benefited me.

        I have no problem spending personal time on my own professional development. I spend my own time and money reading related books and blogs (including this one, it genuinely relates to my job and Alison’s advice is always on target), but I choose the specific topics and resources.

        I wonder if OP employer was willing to at least pay for the course, if not the time?

        1. Bianca*

          My employer offers a tuition benefit, so I can take courses that relate to my job or a potential job and it will be paid for up to a certain amount. I have taken advantage of this in the past, and never expected to be paid for those hours because I considered it to be professional development that I’d chosen to develop myself, or that I had a personal interest in.

          I might feel differently if it were a short training–like a weekend or something–but the thing they wanted me to do was a full-fledged college course, requiring three hours per week in the classroom and probably about that same amount or more on homework, for a full semester. It would have required me to be out of the office about two hours two days a week. I was being asked to attend the course, and then stay late two hours on those two days (or one hour late for four days). This just made me feel resentful, because I don’t actually need those hours to complete my work–my job is a butt-in-seat X number of hours job, but only because I am a non-exempt employee. I could manage my time to complete all of my assigned work and still attend the course, but I was being asked to sit there anyway into the evening for what I viewed as no good reason. It would have been such a disruption to my schedule, and I wasn’t really confident that it would lead to any kind of promotion–in fact, I got the feeling they wanted me to learn this so that they wouldn’t have to hire someone who already knew this and have to pay them more.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            Then in that case, I too would have said thanks but no thanks. And this is coming from someone who has a million industry designations under her belt.

  22. Macedon*

    #1. Part of any job involves communicating your activity to co-workers who are affected by it. Unless your co-worker was getting in touch at a terrible time, asking for information you didn’t have on hand or making firm demands on your availability while you were juggling other tasks (at which point, re-sched), take the question. Phone contact is often the most immediate way to get in touch with someone — it seems they did what was necessary to meet their deadline. It isn’t as if you signaled an inconvenience and they pointedly went against your wishes to reschedule.

    #2. You’re their manager. Don’t pass your responsibility to someone else. It’s your duty to figure out whether bullying of any kind is taking place and who is at fault here, and it’s irresponsible to hide behind mediators or official processes, because you’re the one with the authority to do anything about this.

  23. hbc*

    OP1: I think we have to take into account that the person calling has limited information–what OP’s preferred method of communication is, how disruptive phone calls are to her job, and how difficult it would be to get the information. I’ve certainly asked for IT stuff that I thought was complicated and been told “Just check this confusingly-named box and you’re done” and vice versa. I’ve got coworkers who take calls all day and would think an email to schedule a call is like sending a text that you’re going to send an email. Personally, I don’t like the interruption of the phone, so I just don’t pick it up if it’s not a good time (unless the caller ID says it’s a close coworker who only calls for emergency issues.)

    So I wouldn’t call anyone “rude” for using any normal method of communication, even if your preference and past experience and current company culture all line up with something different. They’re only rude if you assert your own preferences/needs and they don’t accept them.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I also wonder:

      Did the out-of-house colleague have our OP #1’s email address? If it wasn’t on the white paper, then calling the company and asking to be put through to OP #1 was probably the most direct pathway.

      Maybe white papers traditionally include email addresses for the writers, I don’t know.

  24. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’m confused about “cold calling.” I thought that term meant calling someone when you didn’t have an existing relationship, but it sounds like others are using it to mean calling someone without an appointment to call them?

    (Hi, I’m Rusty, I’m in my early 50s, and I hate using the phone. But I know it’s necessary, and I also know how/when to say “this isn’t a good time” and make arrangements for a later call.)

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      Me too. Although, it sounds like the OP did not personally know the colleague, so maybe that’s the reason?

      It’s semantics, but I wouldn’t consider a call from someone else in my organization about a work-related matter to be a cold call. My personal style would have been to either send an email request to schedule some time or make sure the OP had the time to talk through my questions when I called, but I wouldn’t think I was cold calling said colleague when I reached out. But the differing perspectives on this have been interesting!

    2. JustaLurker*

      Agree 100%
      I thought “cold calling” is when someone you don’t know is calling trying to sell you something or get personal/sensitive information.

  25. shep*

    #1: I am exceptionally phone-averse and even have a notice on my office voicemail that the fastest way to reach me is via email, but I wouldn’t fault a coworker for calling me. I’ve found some of my coworkers’ modus operandi is via the phone, which I find irksome but understandable.

    Of course, if I don’t have the information to answer, I’ll let the coworker know that I can get back to them. I usually stealthily (or perhaps not-so-stealthily) slip in the fact that I will *email* them a response once I have that information, but phone calls are ubiquitous–at least in my office culture–to the point that there’s no use getting [justifiably] irritated by such calls.

  26. Balty*

    I really hope the phrase “people leader” doesn’t become a thing. It sounds so weird and buzzword-y.

    1. Kelly L.*

      And if you say it fast, it sounds too much like “people eater.” Which makes me wonder if you’re flying and purple.

      1. J.B.*

        But now I’m envisioning a resume and cover letter for a flying purple people eater. Maybe the job description says one eyed and one horned. Is that a requirement or a nice to have?

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Why on earth would you apply for a job for a purple people eater when you are obviously pink?

        2. Camellia*

          I grew up with this song! Now I’m going to have to go home and find this on youtube. Earworm, anyone? :)

    2. Tammy*

      At my company, we sometimes say “people leadership” (team lead, manager, department head) in order to distinguish from “technical leadership” roles (software architect, operations manager, project manager) that don’t directly involve the supervision of other people. But I agree that it’s an awkward phrasing, and I”m not personally in love with it. Curiously, though I sometimes hear “technical leader” used as a noun, we don’t generally use “people leader” that way.

  27. HRChick*

    #1 – Just wanted to add that it’s also a perfectly acceptable response for you to say, “I’m sorry, but can we schedule a time to go over this information? I’m not going to be available for the length of time this detailed of a discussion calls for. How’s Tuesday at 10 for you?”

    1. TootsNYC*

      And you can even say, after a minute or two, “I didn’t realize this was going to get so involved. Let’s make an appointment for later, because I’ve got some stuff I need to get done.”

  28. LQ*

    #1 (Preface with I hate the phone so much I’d rather deal with any other communication method, I’d rather get some stone tablets etch them and ship them.) When someone from another part of my department, or another part of the agency, or another part of the state calls, I help them. If I’m too busy to help them now I’ll let them know and make sure they know I’ll help them later. (Unless I have a Very Good Reason to not help them.) It seems very strange that so many people are so mad that someone would have the audacity to call. The answerer here could say “Sorry not now” or “Can you email me I’m busy” or whatever, could have even glanced at the caller ID and gone, don’t know them, not my boss, keep working, deal with message later. IMO what the caller did was entirely reasonable. It’s on you at some point to say it’s not ok if it’s not ok because this isn’t horrifying behavior. There is nothing wrong with calling someone and believing that the person they are calling is responsible for their own time.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes. I am just not understanding the level of offense taken at this call. I am contacted by professional colleagues often and industry peers sometimes, and I would think nothing of asking to reschedule a time or communicate via email. They may not know me well and can’t really be expected to know that I hate the phone.

      I am just baffled by the idea that calling someone – someone who could have elected to let the call go to voicemail or easily said that now was not a good time – is rude, and OP’s tone in the comments continues to imply that this sister-company colleague duped her into taking the call and giving up nearly an hour of her time and somehow took advantage of her. Don’t expect people mind-read, if it’s inconvenient for you, let it go to voicemail or say it’s inconvenient.

      1. OP #1*

        Look – the reason I wrote into AAM was not for crowd-sourced justification of my own peevishness.

        Yes, I was annoyed at the Cold Caller, but realize that I easily could have (and should have) asked her to call back at an agreed-upon time when I wasn’t so swamped.

        The reason I wrote in was because I was genuinely interested in knowing whether business norms have evolved to the point where it’s common courtesy to preface a cold call with an email when you’re talking to someone outside your company whom you’ve never met before.

        It’s clear from the responses (both Alison’s and the AAM community) that while it’s more polite to email first, it is neither rude nor unprecedented to call without warning. Question answered.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          For what it’s worth, I don’t think your question was ridiculous, and I’m a bit surprised at the level of incredulity in the comments. In my department, a call out of the blue would be incredibly unusual–not exactly rude but indicative of a complete lack of understanding of the culture. (And it would probably go right to voicemail and not get checked until end of day; email or messenger would get a much faster response.) So yeah, I certainly didn’t find it strange or baffling that you asked!

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            The question itself is not ridiculous, but the idea that someone reaching out to a professional contact of an organization related to theirs is rude or a faux pas is odd, and that’s the way it was framed. It’s not a “cold call”, it’s someone from a related entity reaching out with questions related to organizational work. The caller can’t simultaneously be a stranger with no business calling but also be expected to know that organizational culture shuns phone calls not preceded by IM (via a system they can’t access) or an email (that would have been ignored). Certainly, if the caller had asked, “Hey, is it okay if I reach out to this person?” the response likely would have been that it was fine. My Southern upbringing thinks the caller could have gone out of their way a little more to ensure it wasn’t an imposition, but I confused by the idea that the caller was somehow in the wrong.

            I do also don’t really appreciate being lumped in with the posters of late who have been name-calling and being cruel to question askers. I don’t have a bitch-eating-crackers issue, and I don’t have a history of being an asshole to people here.

            1. Kelly L.*

              It’s not you in particular, it’s the whole tone of the comment section. I don’t necessarily remember which usernames are snarky and when–I just know the whole tone feels snarkier. I didn’t mean to single you out; I’m sorry.

        2. Kelly L.*

          I’m sorry our comments have been so snippy lately, OP. It’s not just you. We seem to have a bad case of BEC at the whole world right now.

          1. OP #1*

            That does make me feel a little better. But honestly, if one writes an AMIRITE?? to the internet, one must be prepared for the resounding NO.

        3. catsAreCool*

          I would have found this call annoying too. If someone has a lot of detailed technical questions to ask, an e-mail with the questions would give me time to research the answers.

  29. Liz*

    #1 I am with you and it would annoy me too. But it’s on you to say could you please put time on my calendar to discuss this next week.

    #3 what it it sounds like to me is you are upset about the feedback (which is a totally normal human reaction) and are looking for ways to be upset at your employer. I would take the time to process this and take the sting out of it. Toastmaster is actually pretty fun so you may enjoy or you could also talk to your manager on having more opportunities to work on your speaking skills that are part of your paid work.

  30. IT_Guy*

    #1 – It’s always a little weird to be called out of the blue by somebody you don’t know and asked very detailed questions. It would strike me as more or less an interrogation if I didn’t know the context or reason for the call. In an ideal world, they would have sent an email to schedule some time because it would take a while to go through all this and might require some research. But since we don’t live in an ideal world, we just have to accept it. And it’s not that uncommon for me.

    #2 – Check with the PA’s colleagues and people that observer their actions. Based solely on the information provided, it sounds like PA1, PA2 are picking on PA3.

  31. Snazzy Hat*

    Regarding #3,
    “You seem to have trouble with public speaking. Perhaps a public speaking course or an organization like Toastmasters would be beneficial. We won’t pay for it, though.” Reasonable.
    “You should join Toastmasters. We won’t pay for it, though.” Not as reasonable, but understandable after a bit of contemplation.
    “Join Toastmasters. We won’t pay for it. If you don’t join, we’ll fire you.” Unreasonable.

    When I first read the letter, I thought, “what a jerky boss!” because I interpreted the suggestion as my second example with “You’re terrible at public speaking” tacked onto the beginning.

    1. LQ*

      I think it also depends a little on if public speaking is something the OP does as a part of the job or is something they’d like to do eventually. If it doesn’t play any part in the job currently but does for a job the OP would like but isn’t something the company is pushing them toward. That would make a lot of sense to me too.

  32. What's In A Name*

    OP#3, Most toastmaster’s clubs that I have looked into meet during lunch, can you negotiate with your employer than if you pay the fee they allow you to go on company time?

    I see Toastmasters as an investment and it sounds like in this instance they are trying to give you constructive feedback for ways to up your game. I didn’t get the impression from your letter than they are saying “You must take class or you will never advance” or “You must take class to avoid termination”

    To me this is similar to taking a class or getting a new certification to further your career, either with current or future employer. If they pay for it that’s a bonus, but if not I think that is fair, too.

  33. Brett*

    #3 There are a few approaches the LW might want to take to have their employer cover the costs here.

    First, if there are any fees involved, the only way to deal with this is to make a formal training request. Follow all the requirements: justification, detailed list of costs, sources for funding, etc. As a tradeoff for lower pay, it is often surprisingly easy to get training approved as long as you have a reasonable justification for it.

    If there are no fees and the only concern is “paid” time, the next options depend on whether you are exempt or non-exempt and whether or not training is available during work hours.

    If you are exempt, then you probably only need an informal agreement with your supervisor. Basically, you agree that your work schedule with include the Toastmasters training. During work hours, this is simply permission to attend. Outside work hours, this is permission to shorten your work day (come in late or leave early) on days when you have training. Depending on your employer’s rules, you might need formal written permission but often with only your supervisor approving.

    If you are non-exempt, your best bet by far is going to be a formal written request for permission to attend training during work hours. You are unlikely to get permission for after hours training on the clock and would certainly need to make a formal written request to do that. You should still inform your manager that you are taking the training off the clock, because some local governments have rules and procedures covering off the clock training (e.g. documenting that it is normally free to the general public and not being provided free because you are a government employee).

    The big difference here for exempt vs non-exempt is that an exempt employee can still come in if needed without incurring overtime, and can administratively shift the time off for training to a more convenient later or earlier pay period without overtime issues. That makes the exempt employee’s request to be “paid” for training outside work hours less formal and more likely to be approved than the non-exempt employee’s request to be paid for the same training.

  34. Tammy*

    OP #2, I know I’m adding to what others have said, but I wonder why you told the PAs that “unless they wanted to make an official complaint, then there wasn’t a great deal [you] could do”. To the contrary, if you manage the team of PAs and you’re aware of a problem – especially one that might involve bullying – you have not just the right but the obligation to get to the bottom of what’s happened. This is especially true in cases of workplace harassment, where the law requires an employer to “undertake reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct harassment”[1]; that duty is triggered when the employer is on notice that the harassment occurred, whether or not a formal complaint was made.

    I realize workplace bullying may or may not rise to the level of legally actionable harassment, but this isn’t a bad way to think about other stuff like bullying that negatively impacts your team. I would argue that once you have reasonable notice that there’s a problem, as a manager, you have an ethical if not a legal duty to respond.

  35. JMegan*

    #5, I’m sure it’s very dependent on the industry and the type of work the staff are doing, but six hours a week of actively managing each person sounds like a LOT. So if you have six direct reports, that leaves 4 hours a week to do the rest of your work; if you have seven or more DRs then you’re into the negatives for getting your own work done.

    For context, I’m a mid-career professional doing “knowledge work” (ie, I spend a lot of time at my desk thinking about things, and either writing them down or talking to people about them.) It would be a rare week that my manager spends more than an hour total with me, and if that happens it’s usually because there’s a fire of some sort that needs to be put out.

    I don’t know if there’s such a thing as an “average” amount of time to spend managing. You’d probably be better off talking about the *activities* that need to be done, and the outputs or performance measures you need to see, and use that as your baseline instead of a hard number.

    1. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, six hours per week per employee seems insane, unless managing people is really your only major job responsibility (and in an environment where you’re supposed to be spending those hours doing mentoring, goal-setting, etc. with your staff, it’s highly likely that you have other large-scale responsibilities as well, ie. it’s not like a retail or restaurant setting where the manager is really just managing staff and operations). I have one direct report right now and we have a weekly meeting that usually wraps up in half an hour or less (same for me and my boss), and that seems perfectly adequate.

    2. Security SemiPro*

      The general rule of thumb I use for managing line staff is ~10% per individual, all in (one on ones, team meetings, paperwork, dealing with HR/finance, answering questions in email/chat, etc.) Some individuals are more expensive (new staff or staff learning a new skill get more coaching, active performance management can be very expensive) some are less expensive (staff doing an established job, staff doing a very similar/identical job to nearby staff can be managed “together” for task management, and individual needs vary.)

      I’m not sold on a “managerial average” and it shouldn’t be something you metric, there are much better metrics to use. But it can be useful to understand that management is a skill set and work and does take time that the manager can’t spend on individual project work. (Engineering fields suffer heavily from a belief that management should be free and untrained.)

      1. Chinook*

        Don’t forget to add in time dealing with paperwork that comes with being someone’s manager. Whether it is approving vacation forms or the requirement for supervisor’s signatures on regular forms (I regularly have to track down someone’s manager to set up a new vendor, get approvals for invoices above their signing authority, etc.). And since you should be reading before signing (and maybe even asking questions), this isn’t a quick 2 minute deal. My manager easily spends an hour each morning going through emails and signing stuff before she gets to do her “real” job.

  36. Jessie*

    #3: Most people could benefit from the types of skills you work on in Toastmasters. I think you’re taking the suggestion a little to personally and it sounds like you’re hurt by the suggestion itself, not just that you won’t get paid for it. Toastmasters is not remedial public speaking. While there’s a wide range of people who participate, those who do it long term are in it to become exceptional speakers. So I wouldn’t think about it like a suggestion that this is an area where you’re failing–take it as a suggestion that this is an area where you could excel and that Toastmasters is a good resource to help you in that regard.

  37. crazy8s*

    #2: some advice from someone who had a similar situation and did not handle it well. Get on top of it and take the issue seriously. Do your own investigation and if you determine that bullying is happening, don’t let it continue. I wish I had handled a similar situation more aggressively. I allowed the situation to go on far too long and it really damaged morale and my ability to be an effective manager. I learned a lot from that situation and I don’t let that kind of stuff go on anymore. You have a responsibility to your team–and a right to set expectations for reasonable workplace behavior that includes courtesy and professionalism.

    I like the idea of setting up shop up there and observing the situation–and be upfront with them about why you are doing it. Talking to others about what they observed might yield some useful information, but there’s nothing like a physical presence to give you the best info.

    1. Camellia*

      I agree 1000% that OP should take action but I’m curious about the comments of joining them in their space. Won’t the mere fact of OP’s presence potentially stop the bullying? Or do we count on it being so egregious that it will continue? What would the OP do if there were no actions that she could observe – what would be the next step?

      1. Voice from the wilderness*

        It’s a leadership thing.

        If you show them that you are serious, you can demand that they be too.

        They may be on their best behavior when the OP is around, but the managerial interest and presence might stir things up.

        Who knows? Maybe other bullying victims will get the courage to speak up?

        It’s a process. Better to start now.

        If the first thing you try doesn’t work, move on.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Also, if you show up, you build the trust of those onlookers. You could just ask each of them to meet with you, but if you’re not normally around, they may not feel safe enough to be honest.

      2. catsAreCool*

        When I was a kid and was bullied, I would have really appreciated the teachers being around more. Maybe this will helped the people being bullied, even if they aren’t bullied in front of the manager.

  38. Rusty Shackelford*

    #3, do you mean that you asked if you’d get overtime pay for attending Toastmasters meetings? Or were you told you could attend meetings during your normal work hours but you’d have to use PTO or make up your time?

    1. Toast*

      I wasn’t asking for overtime and was told I’d have to make up the time or use PTO.

      I appreciate everyone’s comments! It’s helped me see more of the benefits of the suggestions and separate it from the stressful presentation that spurred the feedback. I may just sit in on a few Toastmaster meetings.

      1. catsAreCool*

        It can be tough to read this much feedback, especially when most of it disagrees with your opinion. Good for you for reading it and paying attention.

  39. Florida*

    #3 – Toastmasters is the best training you will ever have. I used to teach Dale Carnegie courses, but for public speaking, I would recommend Toastmasters. (For human relations, I’d recommend Dale Carnegie.)

    I was a member for about nearly a decade. If you go to a club and don’t like it, try another club. Each club has their own personality. The breakfast clubs tend to be more professional. They are interested in starting and ending on time and getting everything done because we all have to get to work. The dinner clubs have a little bit of social club aspect to them because no one has to rush off to get to work. (This is a generalization based on about half a dozen clubs I’ve attended, and two clubs I’ve been a member of. YMMV) Again, I would try a club twice before you make too many judgments. Then if you don’t like it, try another club. Even a small city will have more than one club.

    If your boss recommended Toastmasters, you should definitely join. It is the best (and probably most affordable) professional development you will ever have. Public speaking will benefit you no matter what field you are in. You will also increase your listening skills and confidence – also transferable to anything. I can’t say enough good things about Toastmasters.

  40. sparklealways*

    OP#3 – I’m agreeing with Alison that you are reacting too strongly to this. As a member of Toastmasters for 5+ years, I have noticed that there are many companies that will pay for Toastmasters, which makes perfect sense to me; there are also many companies that will not pay for Toastmasters, which also makes perfect sense to me. Regardless, 100% of people I have spoken with (yes, literally 100% of the HUNDREDS I have spoken with) recognize it’s value in both a personal and professional context.

    Toastmasters is technically an educational program, but they have a “learn by doing” approach in a fun, supportive environment, which makes it so much more than the “training” that you are thinking of it as.

    There are so many misconceptions about what Toastmasters is, including: 1. It’s for old people 2. It’s boring 3. It’s expensive 4. All the clubs are the same.

    OP- I encourage you to go visit a couple clubs on your personal time… not for your work, but for YOURSELF. Once you see the value in it, I think you will understand why your company recommended it, but came down on the side of “we support it, but won’t pay for it.”

  41. anonanonanon*

    Op#3 – I am in Toastmasters. My company pays for the membership fee, but it is extremely cheap (around $40 for the year, I think). While I understand not everyone can afford that, if you can, I would highly recommend it. Our club meets during lunch and I know others in the area do as well. It is 1hr/week and has helped me so much. The time commitment is fairly minimal and the benefits are immeasurable.

  42. Observer*

    #2 Is this your first management position? There are so many issues with the choices you’ve made here, that I have to wonder about this.

    1. Unless you are in a dysfunctional workplace with weirdly rigid prescriptions and rules around complaints and management, you never need a “formal complaint” to take action on issues that come to your attention – ie to actually do your job. The bottom line is that this claim is seen as a cop out excuse to avoid dealing with issues – and with good reason!

    2. If there is ANY possibility that the discord is motivated by race, religion, gender or any other protected status, you not only do not need a “formal complaint” tp act. you actually have a legal obligation to proactively put a stop to it. You place yourself, personally, and your company in a bad spot if that’s the case, if you are in the US.

    3. Mediation is NEVER the solution to a bullying situation. Suggesting it to someone who is claiming to be the victim of bullying is out of line. The only time you suggest a mediator is AFTER you have done an independent investigation of your own and you have come to the conclusion that this is not a case of bullying AND that both parties bear a significant share of the blame.

    4. You can be sure that what you said to both parties has gotten back to the rest of the staff. You can be sure of three things. A – It IS going to affect morale. B – You WILL lose staff, and almost certainly it’s going to be your best people. C- You have just made it MUCH more difficult for yourself. Not just in dealing with THIS situation, but in general. People are NOT going to come to you with issues. And, they are not going to tell you anything that’s going to get them in trouble with a bully who you are going to protect.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I’m not sure I think mediation is appropriate between employees at work.

      I think of it as something you go to when you simply cannot sever the tie, or severing the tie is too difficult, or when there is no clear line of authority.

      At work, there’s a clear line of authority–the manager’s (our OP #2).

      1. Observer*

        You could be right – I don’t have a string opinion either way. I was focusing more on the fact that whether or not there might be a legitimate use case, THIS is most definitely not one of them, in work or out.

  43. C Average*

    Put me down as another person who doesn’t like the phone, and never has. (We won’t talk about my generation. Y’all don’t need to know how ancient I am. Let’s just say phones still had dials when I learned to detest them.)

    Anyway, I think being willing to help a colleague out on a one-time basis pretty much always > sticking to your preferred communication methods and norms.

    When I look back on my years in the corporate jungle, I see a lot of things that I did wrong, but one thing I believe unequivocally that I did right was that I was always, always willing to at least try to help people who reached out to me–and yes, some of them cold-called with questions that required some research and thinking on my part. Those connections paid off again and again, often in unexpected ways. When I did a large project that required me reaching out to people from all different parts of the company (many of them way up on the org chart), everyone’s door was open to me in large part because my door had always been open to everyone.

    When someone from outside your immediate circle reaches out to you at work, it’s not an annoyance. It’s a networking opportunity. If you possibly can, view it as such and be as helpful and friendly as you can. (Also, all opportunism aside, this generally falls under “being a decent human being.”)

  44. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

    My company culture is such that nobody ever cold calls anyone on the phone. We don’t even use the actual phone! If you have a question for someone, you send them a slack instant message. They respond when they can. If the conversation is too complex for IM, one person will suggest launching a slack call to “go voice” but that’s ALWAYS by request, nobody ever just kicks off with a call. People are busy and aren’t expected to drop everything just to talk on the phone. Even in an emergency (which is pretty rare, we are building websites not performing heart surgery here), you IM first.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      I was actually just coming to mention that this is how it is in my department, too. In fact, most people don’t even have their own extensions or phones, so here even for those of us that do, getting a ring out of the blue would be incredibly strange. All voice conversations are prearranged, even if it’s just something quick like, “I have a question, can you hop on the phone so we can discuss?” (This is partly because it’s a department where deep-focus work is the norm, and where other departments may be temped to do an end-run around the usual/approved channels of communication to get access to a developer immediately.)

      So while I don’t think it’s rude exactly to call someone out of the blue, it also would be highly unusual and if I was in the LW’s position, I’d be–well, not offended, but slightly taken aback. I think this must be highly company-dependent.

    2. Searching*

      It has been fascinating to read about the different company cultures and personal preferences on this subject. When I initially read OP1’s question, I was a bit baffled (as in “why in the world would that be a problem”?) but reading through the various responses has been enlightening.

  45. anonymous red panda*

    #4 – Just wanted to say that I find it SUPER frustrating that so many long-haul movers operate like this. I’ve done 2 long-distance moves and encountered this both times where companies just couldn’t tell me when they’d show up with my stuff — how is this convenient for *any* of their customers? (Both times I ended up choosing companies that could give me a specific schedule — there are a few out there). Good luck with your move and I’m sure your new company will understand!

    1. Chinook*

      Having moved too many times to count and many of those moves being across Canada, I can actually understand the desire not to give an exact date for delivery. So many things can affect a long haul drive (weather, construction, random deer with suicidal tendencies) plus, if yours isn’t the only stuff they are carrying, they also have to factor in the load/unload time at each destination. When doing the military moves (where the companies have huge contracts and can lose them with too many complaints), they gave us a 2-3 day window with an exact date once they were in the province.

      That being said, when I hired a private mover (used him twice and I am never losing his number because Mike is awesome), he had full control of his schedule and was able to give me a specific date “weather permitting.”

    2. nonegiven*

      They’e not just bringing your stuff from old place to new place they’re bringing many people’s stuff from old places to new places.

  46. cataloger*

    OP1: I periodically get requests like this (say, from catalogers I don’t know at other institutions) and they almost always email first. Even if they prefer the phone for the actual bulk of the exchange, they send a brief note to introduce themselves, ask if I’m willing to answer some questions, give me a heads-up on the topic, and ask about when a good time to call would be. On rare occasions somebody will just phone up and start firing away with questions, and I usually do give in in the moment and answer as best I can, but I expect people get better answers if the call is planned, as I’m less distracted and have had some time to prep.

  47. Laura*

    #3: Have you considered talking to your employer about starting up a Toastmasters group at work? There are two different groups at my company, in fact. They meet over lunch, so it’s not usually using up company time. At my company the folks who do the organizing would be allowed to do that on company time, because there’s a culture of giving employees the freedom to spend a small amount of their workday on their own projects.

    Not that I know what goes into forming such a group, but there might be others in your organization who could benefit from some practice at public speaking too, or who are regular Toastmasters attendees and willing to help get a group going.

  48. Jillociraptor*

    On #1, I don’t think it’s categorically rude to call someone without alerting them first, but I do find it kind of odd if the caller isn’t checking in on whether they have the time to talk right at that moment. That’s been very standard practice in every workplace I’ve been in: “I have a bunch of questions about the agenda for Friday; do you have 15 minutes or so to chat about that?” “I’m trying to schedule this meeting; do you have a minute to look at calendars?”

  49. LeRainDrop*

    OP #1 – I would find this annoying and a little rude. Obviously it was effective for the caller to get the information she wanted when she wanted it, but it was kind of disrespectful for your time and the idea that you’re likely a busy professional with other work on your plate. A 45-minute interruption better be something urgent or else scheduled in advance. I’m the type that would have preferred to have received an email requesting a time to talk and giving some context for what was to be discussed. Someone calling me about some random paper I had written — among all the other papers I’ve written — would have gotten a more complete and well-reasoned response if they’d given me a heads-up and time to prepare. OP, I’m with you on this .

  50. Lillian*

    I was bullied for over a year before I left my job. A coworker verbally and physically abused me every day we worked together. By the time she started physically abusing me I had been told by management multiple times that something would be done but nothing was ever permanently done about the bully. She would be told to stop, she would stop for a few weeks, and then start up again. The day I told my coworkers I was expecting a baby was the first day she physically assaulted me by shoving me in to a wall (she would always do things like this when she knew no one was looking). OP#2 don’t let this happen to your employees. Don’t ignore it. I decided to leave because of this.

    1. catsAreCool*

      What a terrible thing! Horrible in the first place to shove you into a wall, but when she knew you were expecting, that’s even worse!

      1. GovWorker*

        That is battery, or assault, or something. Police would have been called if it were me. Workplace violence is never acceptable and anyplace that does not shut it down swiftly and unequivocally is a crappy place to work.

  51. Candi*

    Letter Writer #2:

    Let me tell you of a situation that happened at my children’s middle school a couple of years ago.

    The school in question has an excellent antibullying program, and one of things they do is get EVERYone on board with telling bullies to knock it off, as well as promptly reporting such behavior.

    A group of kids told my son that if he didn’t do what they wanted him to, they would all report him for bullying. Since he *had* been a bully (for a very short time) a couple of years before, they told him this would count against him.

    I see a duplicate of this behavior in the actions of the first two assistants.

    Shut it down. This is your job. You need no further complaints. All you need is a game plan.

    As for my son: he didn’t want to go to the office because of what the kids would do. After he told me, I called the office; being *called* down having a different effect then willingly going down.

    The misuse of a fine program was shut down.

  52. GovWorker*

    Op#1, don’t you have caller ID? I let all numbers I don’t recognize go to voice mail, and I may call right back or not depending on the message. I usually say send me an email. Forty five minutes is a big chunk of time and it would be good to have documentation of how this time was spent.

    You are the master of your phone, the captain of your time.

    FWIW, I once had a terrible manager who insisted that we take all calls while also handling impossible workloads. That place had a revolving door and I left as soon as I could.

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