an employee walked away from me while I was trying to talk to him

A reader writes:

I manage a small staff of admins, which includes one technical support person. Yesterday our tech was doing some non-crucial updates to the phone system, which required him to check each phone in the office. When he got to the conference room, another employee was already in there taking a call on his cell phone. The tech proceeded to walk into the conference room anyway to check the handset in there. Being behind the guy and seeing the other employee on his cell phone, I tried to stop the tech but he kept going. Not wanting to interrupt the other person’s phone call any further, I dropped it for the time being.

Later when the tech brought me his daily reports, I tried to address the situation. He said that he had not realized the guy was on his cell phone when he walked in the room (not sure how he missed it because the guy had a phone to his ear and was talking). I wanted to further explain that you don’t interrupt someone in the conference room without first seeking their okay, but he wouldn’t let me talk. He kept saying, “I know, I know.” I asked him to let me explain, but again he said, “I know, I know,” and proceeded to walk out the door. I had to raise my voice and say, “Stop, let me explain” and then again had to repeat myself before he would stop and listen.

I hate raising my voice to employees, and don’t feel like that was my finest hour. What’s the better way to have handled that situation?

This same employee has been reprimanded before for not doing tasks the way they were assigned to him. When questioned as to what went wrong, his response was, “I just didn’t listen.”

P.S. I found out today through the grapevine that his attitude was due to me offending him. When I had been at his desk earlier that day, I saw a call coming in that I had been waiting for, so I reached for the phone and answered it (we have shared lines). Apparently he was furious that I wouldn’t let him answer his own phone. Although I could have been slightly more tactful and explained that I wanted to take the call, I don’t feel that what I did warrants hostility. Further I feel that he could have just approached me about it.

Ooof, yeah, walking away while you were talking is not cool.

Assuming you didn’t outright yell at him and that you remained fairly calm, I don’t think it’s terrible that you raised your voice to speak over him while he was speaking over you, and to tell him to stop as he was walking away. I wouldn’t normally condone raising your voice to someone, but it’s different when it’s the only way you’re going to be heard (and when you’re just asserting yourself in the face of pretty flagrant rudeness).

An alternative would have been to let him walk away, given him some time to calm down, and then asked to talk with him later that day (or the next day), at which point you could have said, “I was really surprised that in our last conversation you were talking over me and walked out while I was still speaking with you. What happened?” (“What happened” is a really good default phrase when you want to create some accountability and make it clear that whatever did happen wasn’t okay and therefore now needs to be discussed.)

You actually should still do that now. If you don’t follow up to discuss what happened, you’ll be signaling that it’s something that can happen in the future, which you definitely don’t want to do. Ask what happened, listen with an open mind, and then assuming you don’t hear something that changes your assessment, say something like: “Walking away while someone is talking to you comes across as dismissive and disrespectful. If there’s a reason you can’t continue the conversation at that exact time, it’s fine to say that and ask to continue it later — but you can’t just walk away. I also need you not to talk over me when I’m talking to you. If you’re frustrated or bothered by something, I hope you will raise it — but I need you to treat me and others respectfully.”

Related to the “if you’re frustrated or bothered” part of that — it’s possible that he was just upset about you answering his phone (which would be a serious overreaction), but it’s also possible there’s something bigger going on. It’s worth thinking about how your relationship is with this guy overall, whether it’s changed for the worse recently, and whether he might have any legitimate issues that are frustrating him. To be very clear, even if he has a bunch of legitimate grievances, it’s not okay for him to be rude to people — but it could be useful for you to figure out if there is in fact something else going on here.

{ 310 comments… read them below }

  1. EA*

    So I am probably nitpicking, and don’t understand professional norms myself, but I don’t see why its a big deal that he walked into the conference room when someone was talking on their cell phone in it. In my experience, when someone is talking a personal call (which I assume it was because of the cell phone use), in a conference room, if someone needs it for a work purpose, that would take precedent. I’ve been interrupted on my cell a few times, and I never thought anything of it. It’s also awkward to try and get someone’s okay who is on their phone.

    I don’t think he should have walked away, but anyone want to enlighten me on how his conference room behavior was rude?

    1. Pwyll*

      Well, there’s no guarantee that he wasn’t on a business call on his cellphone. Many of my most recent jobs have involved having a company cellphone (or needing to use my own phone as a part of the job), and in an open-office environment it’s not uncommon for people to duck into conference rooms to take cellphone calls. Even if it were a personal call, though, just walking into the room without knocking or otherwise getting the occupant’s attention is rude. It could have been a call about a death, or his wife’s explosive diarrhea, or a super important confidential business deal, none of which would have been any of the tech’s business. By walking straight in, he didn’t really give the occupant a chance to stop talking.

      It also doesn’t appear there was any immediate need to check the conference room phone THAT INSTANT. He could have just as easily moved on until the room was free, without interrupting anyone. But at the very least he should have knocked and said, “Sorry, just need to check this phone.”

      1. EA*

        I read the situation like the door was open and he walked in, not like the door was shut and he barged in, but it was probably the latter.

        1. Pwyll*

          Yeah, I interpreted it with the door closed. Though I think even if the door were open, it’s rude not to get the occupant’s attention first.

          1. Sally-O*

            I disagree. If the conference room door is open and there’s clearly no meeting going on, it’s a public space, and anyone can use it. If the employee on the phone needed privacy, he should have closed the door.

            1. Paige*

              I thought the same thing when I read the letter: The IT guy was doing actual work; the guy in the conference room on his cell phone was taking a personal call. The OP even in this letter dismisses the IT upgrade as “non-crucial” when it looked on its face like the IT work should have taken precedence.

              1. Violet Fox*

                In a lot of offices it is also pretty normal for the tech support people to come and check things no matter what else is going on in the room too.

                1. WIncredulous*


                  He needed to check the landline, other guy was on his cell. (I also interpreted that the door to the conf room was open.) I don’t see the big deal.

                  And boss is all rude first, picking up IT guys office phone which is way more egregiously rude and invasive.

                  Actually, I’m already tired to this, seems like a p ssn g contest.

            2. Bwmn*

              I think it wildly depends on where the conference room is located. In both of my recent offices, the conference room is in such a place where it’s not uncommon to leave the door open. The geographical location of the room is such that, it’s not really that close to anyone else to warrant needing the door shut.

    2. CaliCali*

      I also somewhat agree with this — when people have taken a room for a personal call, if someone needs to do something work-related, they need to get out.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        Yeah, but “we need this room for a meeting” and “I need to test the landline” are two very different work-related scenarios. I don’t see any reason the line testing couldn’t wait a few minutes until the room was free.

        1. EA*

          I think I assumed the door was open when he walked in. I think if the door is shut you knock, etc.

        2. Roscoe*

          Well they are different based on your job duties. To this guy, there may have been a reason that one needed to be tested before he could do other ones. Plus, you don’t know when it will be free.

          I also agree that it depends on if the door was open or closed. If open, i think he was fine, if closed then yes, I’d call it rude

        3. Chaordic One*

          A few minutes here, a few minutes there.

          “No, I didn’t get all of the phones updated. There were several phones I couldn’t get to because the phone or the room was in use. I’m sorry they didn’t all get updated.”

          1. Elsajeni*

            But that’s kind of an expected result if you ask someone to update all the phones, in a limited time period, in a building that’s in use by other people at the same time. Assuming the update isn’t so urgent that it takes precedence over anything anyone else might be doing — and I’m comfortable making that assumption here, in part because the person writing in is the IT guy’s manager and would presumably know if it were so urgent as to justify interrupting people — some phones may have to wait until tomorrow, or until you can catch them not in use; that’s just the way it is.

      2. Sadsack*

        Yes, but it sounds like the employee didn’t even attempt to tell the person he needed to be in the room for any reason, he just walked in and started working as if the room was empty. At least address the person using the room first.

        1. KR*

          It’s interesting because on the other hand, many of the people in my office are fine with me popping in their office to check their connectivity/if their phone is working/whatever without talking to them. With some of the people higher on the food chain it’s expected that I’ll come in, do what I need to do, and leave quietly and quickly without interrupting their discussion/meeting at all. People know who I am and that I work on the IT team in our office. There’s also an understanding with many techs that we will encounter a lot of information we’re probably not supposed to know while working on people’s computers – either by seeing it on their desks, on their PCs or overhearing it while we’re working. The general ethical thing to do is to pretend you aren’t hearing it and don’t speak about what you see/hear unless it poses a security risk.

          1. Sadsack*

            You make a good argument against me here. I have no such IT experience. I was just making an assumption, but it sounds from your response and others that it really depends on the norms of the office.

          2. peachie*

            This is common in my office as well — I often use the conference room for assembling meeting materials, and it’s not at all uncommon for the tech team to come in, do what they need to do, and get out — I wouldn’t bat an eye. They wouldn’t do it in a meeting, but in our office culture, it would mostly be fine.

          3. AnonAnalyst*

            Same here. This was also common in my old office, where IT would sometimes pop in during meetings to fix stuff or check on components in the periphery for a meeting later that day. So it wouldn’t faze me if I were taking a call in a conference room and someone from IT came in to fix something.

            It’s clearly Not Done in the OP’s office so this employee should respect those office norms, but that’s not the case everywhere.

          4. A Non E. Mouse*

            I came here to comment the same – I (in IT) encounter all sorts of private company and personal information in the course of my work, and generally we just all pretend that didn’t happen. The only time I react to something I’ve seen/heard is a security issue, and even then it is only reported to MY boss. No gossip and no divulging of secrets and trust me when I say I’ve seen/heard some doozies.

            IT is really not seen/not heard; I go into meetings/rooms all the time, sometimes at the request of one of the participants, because there’s been a technical issue, because I need to right now verify what’s on port 98, etc. People just carry on.

            I wouldn’t have thought twice about going into an open-door conference room to check the phone or any other equipment I was responsible for. If the door is closed, I knock then peek my head in and ask for 2 minutes.

        2. sunny-dee*

          It could be just me, but I was wondering if the tech didn’t see that anyone was in the room until he was already in there, and then just went ahead and did a quick check of the handset. In most of the offices in my company, the conference room doors are almost always closed, even if they’re not being used, so that wouldn’t be any kind of red flag, there.

          1. my two cents*

            But, this was an employee who’s direct manager was trying to get their attention prior to them walking into the conference room.

            I hiiiiighly suspect that the employee “didn’t hear” (max finger quotes) the manager and thought the cold shoulder was the way to go, which is bolstered with the “I know I know I know” response.

            1. sunny-dee*

              It’s unclear to me, though, how visible the manager was. He was behind the conference room, so OP could see in but the tech couldn’t. It’s possible he ALSO couldn’t see the OP unless he was looking that direction. Or he could have been looking at papers in his hand, or looking somewhere else. Or he could have thought the manager wanted to talk to him and wanted to finish up the task first, and didn’t realize the gestures were “don’t go in.”

              There are a ton of innocent explanations here. The OP didn’t mention past problems with this guy’s attitude; he mentioned that the guy had said he “wasn’t listening” when he messed up a previous task. So the OP is focused on trying to make him listen better. But if it’s a problem with communication, that’s something else.

              1. my two cents*

                Innocent reasoning or not, the employee was angry enough about OP answering their phone (seriously, not a big deal at all) to sprinkle it around the office grapevine and have it get back to OP.

                And even if the employee was super duper bummed and knew exactly what they messed up, their boss still deserves 1min of air time to lay it out for them.

                How I bet the walk-away convo happened:
                “Hey Tech, can I see you a second?”
                (heavy sigh) “Sure, whats up?”
                “When someone is in the conference room, you..”
                “I know I know, I shouldn’t have interrupted them, I know”
                “That’s true, but what I want to say is that if someone is in the conference room on the phone you need to…”
                “I know I know, I need to check first. I know” (starts walking away)

                Even if you imagine that conversation with the Tech having The Saddest and The Most Apologetic tone they are capable of, that’s obnoxious and exhausting and not an OK way to handle it.

                1. Anna*

                  That seems really bizarre. I get the feeling the OP found out from someone else that was the issue, which makes it suspect.

                  Really, all of the interactions in this letter are a bit weird to me.

                2. ceiswyn*

                  What I want to know is why the OP is so desperate to explain something the tech clearly already knows.

                  Was the OP going to say something OTHER than ‘you shouldn’t interrupt someone when they’re on the phone, you should check first’? Because if not, I don’t really see the need to waste any time once the tech has shown that they know they did wrong and why.

                  The tech really was incredibly rude about it, but if there’s a pattern of the boss explaining, slowly and painfully, something the tech is already well aware of, I can see why the tech might start to get frustrated by it.

                  (Disclaimer: I’m bringing my own baggage here. I have occasionally had bosses and senior colleagues who felt the need to explain to me, slowly and painfully, aspects of my own job. Such as explaining to me in great detail why X was a problem and slapping me down every time I tried to interrupt to say that I had already solved X. It’s difficult not to get defensive when you’re regularly being talked down to.)

                3. Emma*

                  ceiswyn – But if a boss is correcting you about your behavior, you don’t get to brush it off with “I know, I know, I know.” The boss still has to issue the correction and make sure that you really are on the same page, because otherwise it’d be easy for a miscommunication to slip in.

            2. Paige*

              But the OP already in the letter was dismissing the IT guy’s work as “non-essential” — it just reads totally to me like the IT guy was doing his job while some guy on a personal call had ducked into a conference room that wasn’t in use. I’m hiiiiiiiiigghly suspecting that the OP is not giving the IT guy basic respect on any front (grabbing HIS phone and not thinking twice, having some jerk on a personal call take precedence over actual IT work, etc.)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Whoa, that’s reading a lot into it that isn’t in the letter. We don’t know whether the call was a personal one or a work one (and in many offices, it wouldn’t matter), or that the person on the phone was a jerk (!). And I assume she mentioned it was non-essential to convey “it didn’t need to be done right that second; there was no urgency.”

                When people talk about pile-ons here and not wanting to write in, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about. (Not just you, Paige, but overall.)

                1. pescadero*

                  As someone who has worked pretty extensively in IT, has a spouse in IT, and dozens of friends in IT –

                  It is very common for some task to be “non-essential”… but essential.

                  It doesn’t need to get done this second, but when it doesn’t get done this second you get dinged on your performance review.

              2. aebhel*

                …but none of this is actually in the letter? We have no idea whether or not the employee was on a personal call, and picking up a SHARED phone line when you’re expecting a call is not horrifically rude behavior.

          2. LQ*

            I’d definitely wonder about this. Especially if the person seems to just not pay a lot of attention to the world around them. It is something to talk to them about and say hey! Paying attention is actually part of the job. I recently had a problem that required me to check on something and I absolutely walked into a couple of offices and conference rooms without noticing because I was so very on a mission. Luckily for me everyone knew it was happening and that I’d be a whirlwind. I sent out a message before and after and that was when I found out I’d totally had someone trying to talk to me and had missed it.

            But that doesn’t excuse the behavior later, and yes, it can be a job requirement that being attentive to your surroundings is important, listening to people, noticing them.

    3. SLR*

      No I totally agree with you about the conference room thing. I’m an office manager and will totally kick out someone if they’re in the room for a personal reason and I need it for work. The walking away is obviously another issue all together.

      1. Sadsack*

        The key here is you would address the person, even if you are kicking him out. You wouldn’t just sit down and being conducting your business while some guy is sitting there on the phone without telling him you need the room first.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But in many offices that’s not how it works and there are often plenty of conference rooms able to be used for this kind of thing. Plus, it could have been a work call — I wouldn’t assume it was a personal one.

        Regardless, the person who actually is best positioned to know if it was appropriate in this office and this context is the OP, and we should take her at her word.

      3. PK*

        As a long time IT guy, I wouldn’t hesitate to walk into a conference room for something work related if someone was talking on their phone with the door open. I wouldn’t think privacy was expected in an open room and I need the room for a work purpose. I’d acknowledge with eye contact and a smile but I would continue my work. Particularly if it’s a quick and easy test. I would NEVER walk into a closed room though or if it’s obvious that a group is in the process of convening.

        That’s just my experience though. Regardless, if it’s the norms in your office then so be it. The walking away is troublesome of course.

    4. TheLazyB*

      I only have a mobile phone for work. I wouldn’t assume it was personal. It could also be someone who needed somewhere quiet to be in a conference call, a sensitive call from a member of staff, anything.

      Anyway even if it was a personal call, you don’t just walk in while someone is in there without getting their attention, especially when the task you’re going in for seems to be non-time-critical.

    5. Jubilance*

      My first thought was that the person was taking a sensitive call, hence why they went into the conference room. I’ve done that myself, when I’ve needed to take a call that I didn’t feel comfy taking in our cube farm. If I had been the person on the phone, I would have appreciated a heads up that someone was coming in or needed the room, but maybe that’s just me.

    6. ZVA*

      I wouldn’t assume it was a personal call just b/c he was using a cell phone… I use my cell for work all the time & many others in my company do too.

    7. Tequila Mockingbird*

      I’m really surprised at the number of people who don’t think it’s rude to barge in when someone is using their phone in a conference room.

      It IS rude. I presume that the door was closed because the employee was on a personal call. If my assumptions are correct, then the employee should have knocked. Whenever a door is closed, you knock. You never just enter. Even if your reasons are work-related. Even if you are scheduled for the conference room and there’s someone in there, you knock and signal that you need the room.

      It’s a serious breach of manners to just open a closed door, even for work reasons. I’m really surprised at how many people don’t see this. What if the person was speaking to their doctor, or on some other highly-confidential call? You never presume that just because you have a work task, that it’s OK to barge into someone’s personal call without knocking or saying “excuse me” or signaling your interruption in some other polite way.

      1. hbc*

        I don’t think people aren’t seeing this, they’re not making the assumption about a closed door. It’s not mentioned in the letter.

      2. Christine*

        Even if the door to the conference room was open, you can still knock on it to announce your presence. That way it gives the individual in the office an option of telling you to go ahead, you aren’t bothering them or request you to come back. They can use body language to let you know to go away or go ahead without a complete interruption.

        My boss refuses to shut her office door (she likes hearing everything going on in the hallway). I knock to give her the option of telling me to go away or come in. She’s extremely antisocial, so if you just walk in without knocking (forewarning her of your presence) you get her mean expression. You knock, it gives her a few seconds to readjust her face into a normal expression.

        That’s not a factor in the letter written but I do believe it’s something that people should consider especially when person you are visiting, works with their back to the door.

        1. TL -*

          In a public-use space with a privacy option, though, I’d expect that door open means “public use” and door closed means “privacy needed.” Your bosses’ example is different because her office is a private space.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq*

          Eh, if I’m on the phone in a conference room with the door open, the knocking is going to be WAY more disruptive than a person slipping in, testing something real quick, and slipping out (this is assuming it is, indeed, a quick thing). If I needed to do something in the room, I might make a hand gesture as I came in, indicating that I’d be quick, but I would do so silently, and if the person had their back to me and couldn’t see, I’d probably just proceed and try to make my footsteps a bit louder so they’d be guaranteed to hear me.

      3. CMT*

        Same. It is rude, even if the call wasn’t for business purposes. Testing a phone isn’t an emergency.

    8. Blossom*

      I thought this, too. If I was in an empty meeting room and taking a mobile phone call, and if someone came in and started fiddling with the room’s phone equipment, I’d assume they were setting up for a meeting or something, and give them “right of way” by either leaving the room, wrapping up the call, or just giving them an embarrassed grimace to signal apology.

      In this office, it kind of sounds like “the tech” is to be seen and not heard.

    9. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It really depends on the office culture and context that we don’t have, so for the purpose of responding to the letter, we should take the OP at her word that it’s not something he should do in her particular workplace and in that particular situation.

      But in many offices, there’s an expectation that if you’re on the phone in a conference room, people should give you privacy (and that that might be the whole reason you’re in that room).

    10. lowercase holly*

      i don’t think the problem the OP has was him going into the conference room. maybe he did not know that wasn’t a thing done at work. the problem is when OP, his boss!, tried to explain company norms to him later, he walked away. so it doesn’t matter what he knew about conference room etiquette.

    11. Aceso Under Glass*

      I don’t disagree with you that business needs should take precedence, except… every time people complain that open offices inhibit making personal, private phone calls (which in many jobs are not costly to the business, and can be really valuable to the employee), someone says they can always grab a conference room. That only works if conference rooms can be reliably used for private calls.

    12. BananaPants*

      It probably depends on the workplace. In my office, it would be 100% acceptable for a tech to go into a conference room to do a task even if the room was occupied by another employee on a cell phone call If the door is closed, they’d knock, but they would not be expected to sit around and twiddle their thumbs until the room became available. Most of our conference rooms are booked pretty solid; if a tech had to wait for it to be open to check a phone, they might be waiting all day or for several days and that’s certainly not reasonable.

      Generally, there’s no expectation of privacy for those of us who don’t have offices (which is most of us), so when I need to take or make a call of a very personal nature that I don’t want a coworker overhearing I’ll grab my (personal) cell and go to my car or duck into the back stairwell.

    13. Blue Anne*

      When I was working at a Big 4 accounting firm, 90% of the business calls were held on the cell phones everyone was issued on day 1. At my most recent job, I used the same cell phone for personal stuff and 100% of my work calls (40-50 daily) and the company paid my bill. Being on a cell phone really doesn’t always indicate “personal call” any more.

    14. Vicki*

      I also don’t see the problem. Was the door open or closed? Did he really interrupt? He wasn’t checking on the phone the person was using.

      But OP? You blew it and you blew it in a major way.

      You are upset about a protocol failure: an employee “interrupted” (well, no he didn;t actually) a person by walking into a conference toom to do his job. He did something _you would not have done_ and you want to call him on the carpet for that.

      You … who answered someone elses phone _without asking_. Do you see the issue here?

      You, OP, have shown yourself to have a very odd view of “correct” behaviour. It’s WRONG for this tech to walk into a room, to do his job, without getting the OK of the person in the room, but it’s not wrong for you to answer someone else’s phone.

      Think long and hard about this.

    15. Andy*

      Kind of feels like the OP is really trying to get their say in, and to do so is to also call the tech a liar. The tech clearly said “I didn’t see him on the phone.” and said “I know” when you started explaining proper ettiquitte. Should leave it at that. If they do it again, then have a real talk. Otherwise, calling someone a liar is kind of rude in itself, so I wouldn’t be on the techs case for being rude back.

    16. Calpurnia*

      Yeah, I thought it was weird that she objected to that too, as I probably would have done the same thing if I were the tech guy.

  2. CaliCali*

    I read this whole situation a little bit differently — what happened is that the guy screwed up, he knows he screwed up, he’s embarrassed that he screwed up, and his embarrassment at being reprimanded for it triggered that intense shame response that made him want to flee ASAP. I’m not saying that as an excuse — what he did was rude and inappropriate — but I’ve definitely been in situations where I feel like I’ve been caught in a mistake and was basically crawling out of my skin while being chastised for it, wanting to run away immediately (and possibly to Siberia). I think the OP exacerbated this a bit by chasing him down, and that Alison’s recommended approach (of coming to him later) is the better choice in terms of achieving the desired outcome.

    1. CaliCali*

      ETA — I also don’t think it was a huge transgression to go into the room anyways, as I stated above.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*


      When I screw up, chances are I know it and I know what I should have done instead. That’s why I repeat, “I know” or “I’m sorry” to my husband who wants an NFL-level replay and analysis on why I dropped a dish. Rarely does he tell me something I don’t know.

      If the guy didn’t have a clue, then the OP’s response would be appropriate. If the OP felt that strongly, then going back later would have been okay.

      1. my two cents*

        But this is a working relationship where there is a definite and expected power differential at play. As a subordinate employee, even if you ‘know’ how/why/when you screwed up, it’s still not your place to expedite the resulting conversation (I know I know I know) or just walk away while your boss is speaking to you. There’s of course some times when an employee is too upset or wound up, but that’s on the employee to signal for a quick recess and revisit the topic – not just turn on their heels.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes. Walking away from a spouse being an ass (sorry, but that’s what ‘let’s grill you about a dropped dish’ is) is very, very different than walking away from a boss explaining to you why something you did was wrong. ESPECIALLY if you were, in fact, in the wrong.

      2. cataloger*

        This was my guess as well. At my house we call this “there’s a spoon in there”, named after the situation where you’ve turned on the garbage disposal and there’s a horrible metal clattering sound, and you quickly turn it off, and somebody helpfully tells you “hey, there’s a spoon in there.” It’s very hard to let them finish that helpful sentence.

      3. Cheesehead*

        Are we married to the same person? Geez. An “NFL-level replay and analysis” is a good descriptor to how I feel sometimes when he gets obtuse with me. SO annoying on the home front. He’s in a management/process improvement type of role at work, and I think he doesn’t realize that while it’s appropriate for work, it’s not an appropriate way to talk to someone that you’ve been living with for a couple of decades.

        And on that point, I get the ‘shame’ aspect and just wanting the conversation to end, but if that was the case, then basically the guy needs to use his words a bit more, rather than just parrot “I know” back at his boss and not let her talk. This IS a professional setting, and that level of communication (or lack thereof) doesn’t cut it.

    3. ad astra*

      This was my first thought as well, probably because it’s how I used to react to this stuff, and it’s still an instinct I have to fight. If that is the case, Alison’s “What happened?” suggestion is great because it doesn’t assume or condemn. If OP thinks this explanation is plausible, following up at a later, less tense time is probably the best course of action for any future problems as well.

      It also means that, at least when he allows OP to speak, he’s probably hearing her — even if he’s responding “I know, I know.” So, if possible, I think OP should continue to say her piece in these situations. I’ve had a lot of uncomfortable, “serious” talks with authority figures where my words and body language probably indicated I was dismissing the message when I was actually taking it to heart — or sometimes taking it too personally.

      It’s still not cool to walk away from someone, especially a manager, who’s trying to talk to you. This behavior has to change. But understanding the why of it might be helpful context for addressing it.

      1. ad astra*

        Hmm… others have pointed out that OP may have been belaboring the point in this situation, and I tend to agree. That’s an understandable response to being talked over, but I guess I wouldn’t recommend finishing your piece in this conversation, since there wasn’t much to say. Save that advice for when you really need to explain something.

    4. Sara*

      I agree. It sounds like the issue was addressed, and the employee understood the issue. I kind of got the impression the OP wanted the last word.

        1. Eurydice*

          I disagree; and the fact that so many automatically buy into this fallacy is why employee rights have eroded, at least in the US.

    5. pescadero*

      There are also some parents/bosses who can’t just let an admission and acceptance of wrongdoing go on without a continuing lecture.

      Sounds like the employee knew he screwed up, and admitted fault.

      …and it sounds like the boss didn’t want to let it go at that, and kept “explaining” when the employee already understood.

      Walking away isn’t the correct behavior, but it is rather condescending on the part of the boss.

      1. ceiswyn*

        That’s my interpretation too. I have been that tech; I’ve realised I screwed up, and why, and belaboring the point just makes me want to curl up and die.

      2. LabGirl*

        I thought this too. Bigger picture this feels like at least a tense if not dysfunctional office space.
        1. Unless this was a repeat incident simply saying “We don’t walk into an office when another employee is in there on the phone” would seem to be sufficient. Explaining beyond that seems like being talked down to. For a FIRST time thing.
        2. Being offended that someone else picked up the phone at your desk seems weird to me but I don’t work in a your desk/my desk kind of office. Beyond that though, when she picked up the phone and they saw it was a call meant for them wouldn’t you just say “Oh, OK that’s why they picked up “my” phone.
        3. No then the offended employee went and told other people in the office about the rude (weird) phone call stealing situation.
        4. Then the manager was telling someone about this and that (other random) employee relayed the info on why the IT person was so angry OR it was just randomly presented to the manager by the other random employee.
        5. IT person carries over a frustration from one situation into another.

        I get tense just thinking about all this tenseness

  3. Sadsack*

    I agree with all of Alison’s here. However, just my two cents–i would also find it really rude for my manager to answer the phone at my desk. I know it’s a company phone and you knew it was for you, but still, I would not like that at all. That doesn’t excuse your employee’s behavior, but I hope you will consider not doing this again in the future. I’d prefer you to quickly tell me as I answer the phone, “If that’s Mike, I’ll take it.”

    1. Pwyll*

      Absolutely this. Ideally you’d have stated something like, “Oh, that’s the call I’m waiting for.” I don’t know that you need to ask permission, but just answering the phone without saying anything at all is relatively rude.

    2. CaliCali*

      Yep, agreed. Sure, it’s the same line, but someone’s phone is almost like someone’s computer — it’s company property, but used individually. I wouldn’t really want my boss to just jump on my computer to respond to a reply-all email, after all (at least he should ask).

      1. Security SemiPro*

        I think this is exactly it – I have a conference phone on the table in my office and I view that as communal office furniture, with no more emotional attachment for who uses it for what than the table or chairs its with.

        The phone on my desk though… it’d be weird if someone just used it in front of me. It’s not mine, per se, but it is used individually and I’d want someone to ask/comment/something to smooth the transition before they used it.

        I wouldn’t be so upset that I couldn’t speak to them, but I’d be jolted and not know what to do with my hands while they had their conversation… leaning over my desk… in front of my computer…awkwardly.

      1. my two cents*

        Certainly not rude ‘enough’ to warrant the silent treatment the rest of the day. Yeesh.

      2. $0.02*

        I find this rude partly because the manager presumably then stood there having a phone conversation at her employees desk. I think most people would struggle to work with their manager standing over them, having a conversation with someone else.

        However I agree that it’s mild, and I can only assume that if the employee was particularly upset by this it was because 1) He tends to be sensitive to this kind of thing, and/or 2) There’s a history of perceived issues he has with the manager that he hasn’t raised.

        Agreed it’s a good idea to asses the nature of the relationship as a whole.

    3. Roscoe*

      Yep. We have a department wide extension (as well as our own). If my boss was talking to me, saw my caller ID, and just answered, I’d be super annoyed by that too

    4. Brett*

      I think part of the rudeness is that it means the manager was checking the caller ID on the employee’s phone to see who the call was from. To the manager, he was just checking if the call was the call he was waiting on, but to the employee, that can easily be perceived as the manager checking whether or not the call was a personal call.

        1. Christine*

          I agree with you and the boss needs a separate telephone extension from the IT person. The OP needs to request a separate extension. I would get offended if someone was looking at my phone, saw who was calling and took it. He may have his own work related reason to talk to the same individual and having someone standing over me taking a phone call, on my phone is frustrating and disruptive.

          I had someone call me one day right when my boss walked into my office that she had been trying to get ahold of for a few days, she heard me on the phone, asked to speak to him than said goodbye and hung up. I was like, I needed to talk to him.

          1. ACA*

            There are probably multiple lines on the phone – the OP’s, the IT guy’s, the front desk, etc.

    5. CMT*

      I agree with this, too. I don’t think either party is completely in the clear in this situation.

      1. my two cents*

        Boss answering your phone is FAR less rude/wrong/whatever than Tech talking over and then walking away from boss while being ‘talked to’.

    6. Cristina in England*

      If my manager were at my desk, I would think it rude NOT to answer my phone. I hate voicemail and no one ever calls me anyway so I would never even think to check it.

      In a former phone support job, yeah same applies… I would rather the call is answered than not.

      1. Judy*

        But it sounds like he was sitting right there.

        Apparently he was furious that I wouldn’t let him answer his own phone.

        And the manager saw the caller ID and

        reached for the phone and answered it

        during a conversation with the Tech. I’m not fond of people who answer phones when I’m talking with them, even at their own desk. I’d be upset if someone I was having a conversation with looked at my caller ID, then reached out and answered my phone.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          There are so many desk configurations where this still makes sense. We did it all the time at my last job. Folks standing next to me would frequently see calls they were expecting, answer from my phone, put the customer on hold, and then pick up the extension from their desk.

            1. Brett*

              It does seem a little odd, though, that this would be normal etiquette in that office to read someone else’s caller id inside their personal workspace, but walking into a conference room where someone else is taking a cell phone call is such poor etiquette that it was worthwhile for the manager trying to stop the employee from entering the conference room.

              The employee might see this contrast in office etiquette as driven by the differential in power, and perhaps even perceive the latter situation as the manager flexing her power rather there being a significant issue with him walking into the conference room. (Not listening and walking away are still real issues, but perhaps the employee’s clouded perception of an unfair power dynamic is his real problem.)

              1. Ultraviolet*

                It does seem a little odd, though, that this would be normal etiquette in that office to read someone else’s caller id inside their personal workspace, but walking into a conference room where someone else is taking a cell phone call is such poor etiquette that it was worthwhile for the manager trying to stop the employee from entering the conference room.

                I don’t think this is inconsistent. I think it’s just a setup where the expectation is less privacy or personal space in most of the workspace, with a few spaces set aside where you can go for privacy (or just quietness) if you need it.

            2. Brett*

              And reading the OP’s comments down below, I am really thinking the employee has created a warped perception of the power dynamic in the office.
              Especially with the update, it does not sound like the OP did anything wrong. Yet, the employee’s perception could easily take a minor invasion of space and blow it up into a major issue.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It could be that the tech sees than ANYONE can grab his phone at any time but he better not interfere with anyone else’s use of the phone. Even if it’s a cell.

    7. AnonAnalyst*

      Yes, agreed. I wouldn’t give my manager the silent treatment for the rest of the day, but I would find it pretty rude if she picked up the phone while standing at my desk without any explanation. I’m clearly not the only one who would be bothered by this, so saying something first seems like a better way to handle it in the future.

    8. Needalittlespace*

      Wow, if my manager ever leaned over to pick up my phone–I would ask to have a talk with him about micromanaging/how we could better understand each other’s space requirements. Amazed that some people think it’s ok! It’s like taking away the last scrap of autonomy. Of course, they have the right–in the same way a CEO could snatch a pen off my desk without asking–but in reality, every higher up who I have ever worked with, no matter how high up, would at least give pro forma “do you mind?”

      PS. Especially to Alison–in the same way that you ask people not to make assumptions about office culture wrt IT coming in while someone is on the phone (of course, for every office situation I have ever been in, it was 100% normal for this to happen so I am a little biased to begin with), I would not make any assumptions about “office configurations” making the phone pick up ok–i.e. The letter writer brought it themselves as an issue.

    9. Eurydice*

      Yes, that would really bug me too. I’m wondering if she might be a bit overbearing in other situations/interactions, which might have contributed to the tech guy’s behavior.

  4. Lana*

    While I will say that it is absolutely NOT cool what he did. Either of the things – walking in while the person was on the call and walking away from you – both unprofessional and rude.

    I will also that I have been in those situations where the point is made – and then remade and then remade again until I want the earth to swallow me up and release me from the endless chastising. Like the Office Space situation where Peter uses the wrong TPS cover sheet, someone points it out and he says “Yes, I know. It was a mistake, it won’t happen again” and then guy keeps going on. “Because we have new sheets” “Yes, I know” “And it’s important you use them” “Yes, got it, It won’t happen again” “Do you need to get a copy of the new sheet?” “No, I have it. I got it. I just made a mistake, that’s all.” — you get the idea.

    So there is a teensy part of me that wonders – what more really needed to be explained? Don’t get me wrong – he was rude. He was very rude to walk away and shouldn’t have done that. But I’m also saying, sometimes you just need to say “Hey, don’t do that again” and let it be – a minor etiquette error doesn’t require so many repeated corrections and a big explanation. And honestly if the chances of that happening again are slim – and the guy on the cell phone didn’t care, maybe it’s not even that big of a deal to bring up?

    Just a counterpoint.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking. He said he didn’t realize the guy was on the phone, and you continued to explain to him why he shouldn’t barge in when the guy was on the phone. Having someone repeatedly tell you not to do something that you didn’t intentionally do, and “explain” why you shouldn’t do something that you never intended to do, is so frustrating. It doesn’t excuse his rudeness, but when you combine this with you answering his phone on his desk, it kind of sounds like you might be a bit more overbearing than you mean to be.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Ugh dear God yes. This reminds me of when my dad was in the car when I first started driving. A oncoming drunk driver almost hit us and my instincts took over and I swerved onto the curb and out of the way. I had to listen to an hour long lecture about how going up on the curb is dangerous and there could have been a parked car and I shouldn’t react so recklessly and on and on.

        All of this was done under the assumption I intentionally decided to swerve and drive up on a curb for fun. So frustrating. By the end, I secretly wished we’d gotten hit.

      2. Trout 'Waver*


        What more needs to be explained? Just say don’t do it again. Also, why was the OP reading his phone at his desk? Those two together suggest a pattern of behavior that most people would find a bit overbearing.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Just wanted to come back and say that this wasn’t the case, given the additional details the OP has posted.

      3. my two cents*

        didn’t the employee wander in while they were busy ignoring OP’s attempts at stopping them?

      4. Anon for this*

        Yes, this A) is obnoxious and B) makes me less likely to listen to you, because you repeat useless things.

    2. BPT*

      I was also coming here to say this. Looking at just this interaction, I was a little confused about what more OP had to explain, and why it was being drawn out when the employee already said that they understood.

      I will admit though that I hate being talked over, so when someone does it to me in a situation like this, sometimes I’ll say, “wait, let me finish” and continue to explain, maybe even moreso than I would have to begin with. Like it irks me so much that I’m going to make them stop and listen to me. Might be irrational, but that could be the reaction that OP was having.

      All this taken in context, though, with the problems the employee has had in the past, and it does seem to be somewhat of an attitude problem. I probably wouldn’t make a big deal out of this singular interaction, but it’s something to watch out for.

      1. Amelia Parkerhouse*

        Snap. I came to say this same things. Neither person here is right. Yes it’s rude to walk away but I don’t get why any of that warrants a big discussion. The OP told him the issue. He made a mistake and realizes it. What more is there to say?

    3. Barney Barnaby*

      Exactly. This part stood out at me:

      “He kept saying, “I know, I know.” I asked him to let me explain, but again he said, “I know, I know,” and proceeded to walk out the door. I had to raise my voice and say, “Stop, let me explain” and then again had to repeat myself before he would stop and listen.”

      Maybe you, the manager, should have STFU-ed and let it drop.

      I have had friends who are convinced that they need to “explain” things until I get it. It’s humiliating, and they are former friends. It’s no more (and actually, less) appropriate at work.

      You’re not explaining how to land a rocket on Mars; you’re asking the employee to not repeat a certain behaviour. Say it and then channel Elsa – Let It Go.

      1. BananaPants*

        Exactly. I’d have been pretty pissed to have my supervisor keep hammering home an extremely simple point after I explained the situation and agreed that I’d do it differently in the future – to the point of demanding that I come back to take another shellacking. Don’t treat an employee like a small child, and you won’t get an immature response.

        1. Dixieland Lawyer*


          I worked for one woman who seemed giddy to hand down reprimands. She took pleasure in finding every minuscule error (which was frustrating enough), but even when the talking-to was warranted, it was always handed down in a way that was extremely demoralizing and condescending (usually through multiple rounds and at least two methods of communication) when it could have been a helpful learning experience.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But there’s no evidence that that’s what’s happening here. In fact, if you read the OP’s updates in the comments, it’s very much not that.

            1. neverjaunty*

              It seems like any time there is a letter where an IT person might be in the wrong, we have a tsunami of pile-ons defending them, because IT.

              1. Kaz*

                No it is because we don’t get the full story. See, OP decided not to tell us the full story in the original post, instead she added pieces to the story later (in the comments) that make the IT guy look even worse.

                1. SimontheGreyWarden*

                  This comment sounds like ascribing malice where it would be easier to ascribe ignorance. Op writes a letter to Allison, trying to keep it on topic. People begin to dogpile. OP realizes that they should have included this or that detail, OP replies. I wrote once to Allison and it followed that basic pattern, and I read this page religiously. OP isn’t necessarily trying to make IT look even worse, OP just realizes that the context wasn’t completely provided and that in its absence, readers are creating their own.

                2. LBK*

                  Having written in to AAM before: you have to give you best guess at what details will be relevant because you can’t write a 10-page transcript and character history for the entire situation. Sometimes you guess wrong.

                  Please don’t discourage LWs from coming in to add clarifications to things they might not have realized were relevant to the situation when they were trying to write the letter under the guise that it’s “changing the story”. The times when we get to engage further with the OP in the comments are some of the best discussions because you can get those clarifications about things that are unclear in the letter and then modify your advice accordingly. It’s an email to an advice column, not a sworn affidavit.

      2. AnonAnalyst*

        And asking the employee not to repeat that behavior doesn’t require an explanation. It’s not like when you make a mistake with a more complex task where it might not be immediately obvious why you should have done B instead of A.

        “Please do not go into the conference room when people are using it for calls” is pretty clear. I am honestly curious what additional explanation was required, based on the information in the letter.

        The employee was still in the wrong for talking over OP and walking away, no question. But I wonder if communicating the request more succinctly, which it sounds like was all that was required in this situation, would have avoided the whole scene that played out.

    4. Interviewer*

      Agreed. I will drive the point home with my kids over & over, but never with adults in the workplace.

    5. Beezus*

      But we don’t just have someone who didn’t want to hear a full-length chastisement for a simple error. If that’s all it was, I’d agree. What we have here, though, is someone who has also repeatedly used “I didn’t listen” as a reason for doing things in a different way than he was told. After hearing that, I’d be more likely to belabor points on How Things Are Done with this employee, because it’s clear that going over something briefly once doesn’t cut it.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Actually, the letter doesn’t say repeatedly. It just says he was reprimanded in the past for performing a task incorrectly, and he said it was because he didn’t listen.

        I know we’re not supposed to pile on the OP, but they could be blowing things way out of proportion. There are two initial complaints: he walked into a conference room when someone was there and he didn’t respond to the OP gesturing to him not to go in. However, depending on what he was doing, he very easily may not have seen the person until he entered or the OP’s gestures. I tend to look at my feet when I’m walking — if someone was standing 10 feet away and making mild gestures, I could easily miss it.

        This specific situation seems like it is way overblown. Which leads me to suspect that other interactions are also way overblown, which makes for a bad relationship.

        FWIW, I consider the OP grabbing someone’s phone to answer before they could reach it, without explanation, to be substantially ruder than accidentally going into a conference room when someone was there. If those happened relatively close to each other, I could see getting really PO’ed about the manager overreacting to one, but not mentioning or apologizing for the other. Again, not saying that is okay, because it’s a bad reaction, but in that case, if the OP tries to chase down the tech to talk about the conference room AGAIN, that’s going to make it a lot worse, because the issue really isn’t “how do I pound into this guy’s head to stop walking into occupied conference rooms?”

        1. my two cents*

          Naw dude, if my boss (or even the Senior-ed coworker) saw a name on the caller ID and just answered it, I would let them. I would then assume there is a reason they wanted to grab the line right away. I can always ask about the circumstances after the call if I’m irked about it.

          That’s the company’s phone, not my personal line. Even if I was waiting for a call to come in it, wouldn’t have gotten through while whoever was on the other end of the line anyway!

          1. Petunia*

            OMG! I get so frustrated by attitudes like this. It sure as hell would be considered your phone if you suddenly decided not to answer it. It’s this “boss is always right” mentality that has resulted in an American workplace where management and workers are pitted against each other, with the poor working man always getting the short end of the stick, and expected to count himself lucky simply for “having a job”. No more cooperation, no more appreciation, no more loyalty.

      2. Gandalf the Nude*

        I feel like this is an important bit of context that folks are glossing right over. His behavior fits into an established pattern of rudeness, and it’s not unreasonable to give less benefit of the doubt to someone who acts that way.

      1. Prismatic Professional*

        That’s how I read it. The employee wasn’t letting OP finish her sentence in the first place. She was just trying to finish it, not belaboring the point.

      2. sunny-dee*

        That’s not how I read it. She expressed the problem, he said he hadn’t seen the person in the conference room (implying that he would have acted different if he had), and then she wrote “I wanted to further explain that you don’t interrupt someone in the conference room without first seeking their okay…” The OP was basically nagging the guy so he would “get” what a big deal this was. But he’d already acknowledged he was wrong and it really wasn’t a big deal. The “I know, I know,” came from the OP belaboring that point. Then he tried to leave, then she chased him down and went all over it again. It just sounds like an incredibly unpleasant experience.

        I’m not excusing him, really, but I have had a couple of bosses who acted like that, and they were awful bosses. My good bosses have never, ever acted like that. The best way to create an attitude problem is to micromanage and hassle people (especially after they’ve already admitted they were wrong).

        1. Anon for this*

          I read it the same way. I’ve had a similar manager and watched another one in action (she had two modes, “ignore” and “micromanage,” and I got “ignore” while the person I shared a desk with got “micromanage”). It’s irritating and hard to take seriously.

          When my own manager was like this, I was ultimately confused by what she wanted from me, because the unpredictable lectures and odd hang-ups over minor issues left me with no idea what her priorities were.

      3. Ultraviolet*

        Yeah, this seems like the most important aspect of the situation. It’s definitely irritating to feel that someone’s belaboring your mistake. But being irritated doesn’t justify talking over your boss and then walking away from them. My understanding from the letter is that OP probably got out 1-3 sentences before the guy started trying to cut her off. That’s not okay, and I’m really surprised OP is getting more roundly condemned than the employee. If someone came to an open thread and asked, “Under what circumstances is it okay to interrupt your boss with ‘I know, I know’ and walk away from them?” I just don’t think many people would reply, “If they’ve already been talking for thirty seconds and you feel pretty sure you can anticipate what they’re going to say next and you feel kind of annoyed with them, then it’s no big deal. Or at least, it’s less remarkable than whatever annoying feedback your boss is giving you.”

        1. jamlady*

          THANK you. This is, for me, the most frustrating comments section I’ve seen on AAM. Maybe we’re all just grumpy because the year’s almost over.


    6. Cranston*

      Yes, and combined with her standing over him taking a call, I can see why he’d be annoyed. It all seems a bit infantalizing, but OTOH, he’s acting like a child.

    7. TheBeetsMotel*

      These things.

      Having dealt with environments where the smallest, human-error brainfart requires a response of anything from huffing and eye-rolling to all-out yelling, being pulled up on pretty small issues (and, I’m sorry, in the grand scheme, what happened here is a whole lot of nothing) and having to listen to a point-by-point of everything that went wrong is frustrating and demoralizing. Especially when what went wrong is that you’re a human who made a mistake; rather than something that happened through indefensible neglect, laziness or incompetence.

      Should be have walked away? No, that’s not professional. But don’t make mountains out of molehills either.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    It sounds like there’s something bigger going on.

    If he opens up, then you need to listen — I mean really listen — to what he has to say. Although I’m not defending this guy, it’s extremely hard to be respectful and happy in a workplace, if your boss is doing crappy things that affect you. That’s not to say that you are, but you could have inadvertently done one or more things.

    I have a big, big boss who I don’t care for, but I’m always cordial. (I’m not nice or rude; I’m professional.) But he has done a series of crappy, insensitive things to me over the years along with saying some things that were hurtful. He has clearly picked up on my distance toward him, and it bugs him, but he has never investigated why. He expects me to be as jokey and happy as I am with others and one. It’s not intentional, but he can’t expect me to be thrilled either.

    That’s why you have to ask about this employee’s behavior overall and be open to the answer, especially if he has changed. Don’t just ask him to fall in line without doing some probing of your own.

  6. HRChick*

    Just my thoughts (and maybe I’m missing something), but did he really need it “explained” to him why he shouldn’t do something? That can come off really condescending. Maybe he was irritated and trying to step away because of that as well as the phone issue? Also, I don’t think there’s many circumstances where I’d raise my voice to my adult employees. If he needed to walk away from me at that point, I would let him and address it with him later.

    1. kapers*

      Same here. I’m detecting something a little troubled in their general working relationship.

      I’ve never walked away from my boss (only in my mind), but I can’t say I’d appreciate someone grabbing my phone. Or not just chastising me, but continuing to lecture with a raised voice after I’d made it clear I understood. Especially since the level of breach testing a landline in a non-reserved conference room is debatable.

      I’m not going to defend this person, I believe OP, but this style of management is not one I’d be happy with.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq*

      Yeah, like, I feel like the sentiment is “In the future, please don’t enter conference rooms that someone else is using to do IT stuff unless you get an indication from them that it is OK.” Anything beyond that does feel like and awful lot, and frankly it’s pretty self-explanatory. You don’t need to have a 5 minute conversation about that. If OP was taking long enough that the person got thru like 2 rounds of “I know, I know” then I can’t think a version of that that doesn’t sound condescending.

  7. MarketingGirl*

    His reaction was rude and you have a right to be upset at his unprofessionalism. That kind of behavior should be addressed and corrected. But at the same time, I can’t help but to think the original issue at hand really was not that big of a deal. I’m not sure if I would have been offended by a tech coming in and making a quick check if there wasn’t an active meeting with multiple people going on. I’m assuming the employee in the conference room is familiar with this tech’s role and it’s possible he just flat out didn’t care. If that employee didn’t mind, is it your place to tell the tech that his actions were wrong? Maybe your previous interactions with him have influenced how this all played out. I feel like a simple, “Please make sure you check conference rooms before doing work in them. Thanks!” would have worked.

    I could be wrong here and I’m not trying to defend the tech’s reaction. I am a big “pick and choose” your battles person, and to me, the original battle just was not worth fighting.

    1. KR*

      Same. Also, as a tech person in my office, I would probably go in the conference room too unless the person in the room was giving me clear “this is a private conversation and I don’t want you in here” vibes. Most people in my office know me and are comfortable with me popping into their office as needed to make sure they have connectivity/their phones are working/everything’s good in the hood especially when it’s something that doesn’t even require talking to them. They have jobs to do but I do too and I don’t have to bend over backwards to make sure they aren’t inconvenienced in any way.

    2. zora.dee*

      On the other hand, I would probably be annoyed if someone came into the conference room while I was on a call without giving me a chance to acknowledge them. I work in a shared office, and I have been having some health issues lately, and have had many times recently where I needed to step into an empty room to take calls with my doctor about my medical issues. These are extremely personal, and I would not be okay with someone walking into the room while I was talking. Unless they caught my eye at the door first, and gave me a chance to put the call on hold for a minute. These are the only private spaces we have in my office. So, I’m with the OP on that this was not okay for the tech to do in the first place.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I agree. I totally get if you need to kick me out of the room or come in for whatever reason, but give me a wave and a signal that you need the room and give me 2 seconds to relocate. Don’t just walk in like I’m not there and proceed to overhear my conversation, which I presumably wanted privacy for since I took it in a conference room instead of at my desk.

    3. Emma*

      On the other hand, if your boss was in the room and told you to stop and wait, would you still just insist on waltzing in and doing your thing? That’s the problem, not that he tried to enter an in-use conference room in the first place.

  8. Leatherwings*

    Not sure I like that “through the grapevine” stuff. It happens in every workplace, but this isn’t really the sort of thing you’d want to be discussing with other people. If he had an issue, he shouldn’t be whining about it to everyone around him either.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Meh, that really depends. It also could have gone like this.

      Boss snatches phone up and answers.
      Tech looks over at nearby desk and rolls his eyes at coworker.
      And scene.

      Or he could have been complaining around the watercooler for two hours. It could be minor, though.

      1. my two cents*

        I don’t think the OP answering the Tech’s phone even warrants an eye roll. Seriously, it’s not your personal phone and that’s your boss…?

        I mean…it was an anticipated call, not a general ‘picking up the line’, which would have immediately been evident by whatever OP was saying literally a few feet from the Tech. “Oh hi John! Thanks for returning my call”

        I don’t understand why everyone seems to assume OP is being a harpy that prodded relentlessly until Tech boiled over.

        This isn’t a tenured employee with a corner office that’s being invaded by a colleague – this is a direct report of OP who’s throwing a tantrum. And as always, your boss can answer THE (not ‘your’) phone and likely also has access to the work email account assigned to you if needed.

        1. Skinny Pete*

          Your desk isn’t technically your desk either, but wouldn’t you be upset if your boss rummaged through it? No wonder people feel unhappy at work when they’re made to feel they don’t own anything and are expected to roll over as their bosses run roughshod through your personal stuff like this. It’s soul-crushing.

    2. Anna*

      I had an issue with that too, especially since the OP is now attributing the things that happened in this situation to what they heard a rumor about. That’s not cool.

  9. Scotty Smalls*

    I get where people defending the employee are coming from. But I see a guy who has a habit of not listening. He didn’t stop when OP tried to stop him from walking in. He spits out his bit, and then tells his boss “I know, I know…”. When things go wrong, he says “He just didn’t listen”. OP should probably address that, more than the faux pas of walking in. Can you ask someone to work on their listening skills?

    1. TheCupcakeCounter*

      I’m wondering if the employees tone was kind of snotty and made the OP think that they were brushing him off as opposed to an “i know what i did and realize it was a problem”. The fact that this employee had a listening problem to begin with added to his upset at the OP’s faux-pas of answering a call on the employees phone (wouldn’t be my favorite thing either if I were sitting right there) makes me think it could have been an attitude that cause the OP to harp a bit. I also agree that there really shouldn’t be a long explanation and as long as you got out “you did this and it was unacceptable” there should be no need to beat it to death.
      If you do have a follow-up the focus should be on the overall listening problem not the walking away incident specifically (although it should be made clear, albeit quickly, that it was not appropriate in an office setting).

      1. TL -*

        Yeah, I’m wondering if the employee doesn’t listen too well *and* the OP overexplains and this is leading to the OP talking more and the employee paying less attention (because OP drones on and on and his attention span is short).

        I know I have trouble following people who explain things over and over or who are circular in conversation and I tend to miss details if I don’t force myself to listen. This could easily be a problem from both ends.

    2. KRM*

      I think that’s the major thing that isn’t being addressed. In the past he has repeatedly stated that he “just didn’t listen” to instructions. If I had someone who had said that (multiple times!) to me, then I might push like the OP did, just so we’d be super super clear on him actually having listened this time. If this was a one off thing, I’d be more on the employee’s side, but with his track record I’m more in line with the OP.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I reread the letter, and I didn’t see anything about “repeatedly.” It’s vague, but it could also only be one time. In which case, the OP could be incredibly awful by assuming that because he messed up one time, everything needs to be repeated endless for this guy to “get” it.

        1. my two cents*

          “tasks” was plural indicating he was dinged (maybe one write-up, maybe multiple mentions) for not having listened properly to complete several ‘tasks’ (maybe the same task multiple times, maybe different various tasks) correctly.

  10. Weasel007*

    In my office if a door is closed in a conference room you knock. You never just enter. If you are scheduled for a room and someone is in the room you knock and signal you have the room reserved in the window. Only a few folks in my floor have private rooms with doors. Everyone else is in tall walled cubicles. When I have a brief personal call (doctors office, personal financial call) I find an empty unscheduled conference room and close the door. Also, if I am speaking to our HR dept about someone who reports to me, I find a room. It would be a serious breech of manners to open a closed door. FYI: I work at a large fortune 500 company with over 200k+ employees.

    1. TL -*

      In my workplace, people often leave the doors open in the conference room if they’re working but not needing to be private and I wouldn’t think twice of poking my head in and grabbing something.

      It depends on the workplace/if the door is opened or closed.

      1. LBK*

        But would you really do that without a quick “Sorry – just need to grab something!” to the person in there? You’d just walk by them like they didn’t exist? I find that hard to believe, unless we’re talking about a huge room where you’re not really in proximity to someone just by entering.

  11. LisaD*

    Honestly I feel like this might be someone who just doesn’t respect you as a manager, OP. That might be mostly his fault or it might be mostly your fault, but if he dismisses feedback with “I didn’t listen” or “I know” and walks away while you’re talking, it’s clear that the way you give him feedback is not having the desired effect of getting him to accept the feedback, think critically, and improve.

    Maybe you can talk to others on your team and get some candid feedback for yourself on things you could be doing better? But if everyone else feels good about how you deliver feedback, he may just not be a fit for you and it might be valid to have a candid conversation about that. If he’s consistently a somewhat poor performer and he doesn’t respect you enough to listen to performance feedback, you’re going to have a hard time leveling him up to consistent strong performer.

  12. hbc*

    I got the same vibe that others did that the incident didn’t need much more explanation. There’s little worse than knowing you screwed up and having to listen to someone explain all the things you already know about why that was a screwup.

    But with the previous weak excuse of “I just didn’t listen,” the conversation should have moved to the bigger picture. “You’re saying you know, but from here it looks like you’re not really listening, which is something that’s been a problem before. I promise not to harp on this, but I need to be sure you’ve really heard me this time.”

    But good grief, I hope no one let that original excuse go by without a serious discussion.

  13. Roscoe*

    Yeah, I think there is some overreacting here by the manager.

    #1 You picked up his phone at his desk. I too would be annoyed by that if you didn’t even say something like, “That’s for me, please answer it and transfer it to my desk”

    #2 You seemed like you felt the need to belabor the point when he knew it was wrong. You said he was wrong, he acknowledged it was wrong, but you felt you needed to keep harping on it.

    #3 You “heard things through the grapevine”? So initially you were letting people gossip about this guy to you.

  14. Moonsaults*

    I’m not sure why he was so outraged by you answering his phone, there has to be something going on there.

    I think that when you approach him next to make it clear walking away was the wrong choice, you should apologize for the invasion of his personal desk/bubble. I think this could be very much two people having two awkward situations back to back and then causing much more friction that it should be.

    If he needs to know to double check the conference room in that way, then he needs to know that it is a big deal, regardless of the ones of us out there (myself included) that don’t see it as a big deal. As the manager, you get to set the rules in that aspect of the office procedure for sure.

    1. Anna*

      The OP doesn’t actually know if he was outraged. The OP heard “through the grapevine” (read: a rumor) that the employee was upset with them over that and is now attributing this other stuff to what they heard. This isn’t a good way to go about it.

      I agree, though, that it seems to be a series minor weird things that are growing exponentially.

  15. HannahS*

    I have the same questions as Lana and HR chick. Beyond that, I’m confused as to why the LW would expect that he should have “just” approached her about the phone thing. I’ve never gotten the impression that it’s normal to confront your boss over such minor incidents. Repeated patterns of unreasonable behaviour, maybe. But she answered his phone–he might not have felt that it was a big enough issue to use up social capital on, even though it really bugged him.
    The other thing is (and this is getting into speculation, so ignore it if it’s not the case) LW might think that the conversation would have been, “It makes me feel disrespected when you answer my phone.” “Sorry, next time I’ll let you know that I’m expecting a call.” But the fact that the conversation “If someone’s on the phone you need to wait until they’re done to use the room.” “Ok, I’ll be sure too,” for some reason required a lot of explanation makes me think that the tech believed it wouldn’t have been a casual, straightforward conversation.

  16. Dankerpants*

    So, the conversation went something like:

    OP: “I saw you walk into the conference room when Argle McBargle was using the room. Don’t do that. The phone checks could have waited.”
    Tech Guy: “Yeah, I didn’t realize McBargle was in there. Right-o.”
    OP: “You don’t interrupt someone in the conference room without seeking their okay.”
    Tech Guy: “I know. Yep.”
    OP: “Listen to me! You should not have done this thing!”
    Tech Guy: “I know.”
    OP: “Make sure the conference room is clear before you go in there.”
    Tech Guy: “I know, I know.”
    OP: “Stop! Let me explain! You should not enter the conference room without making sure it’s not in use, because you should not do that!”
    Tech Guy:

    1. Dankerpants*

      Call me wacky, but that is a lot of chastising for something as minor as not realizing a room was in use before you went in.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that’s a very uncharitable (toward the OP) guess of how the conversation went.

      Y’all are really piling on the OP with a lot of assumptions that we have no reason to think are correct.

      Here’s what I pictured:

      OP: “I saw you walk into the conference room when Argle McBargle was using the room. When someone’s on the phone —
      Tech Guy: “Yeah, I know.”
      OP: “I was saying I want to give people privacy–”
      Tech Guy: “I KNOW.”

      That’s reasonable of the OP and it’s rude of the tech guy.

      1. sunny-dee*

        That’s not what the OP wrote, though. She wrote really closely to what Dankerpants said. Using her letter…..

        Boss [Later when the tech brought me his daily reports]: I tried to address the situation.
        Tech: he had not realized the guy was on his cell phone when he walked in the room
        Boss: I wanted to further explain that you don’t interrupt someone in the conference room without first seeking their okay, but he wouldn’t let me talk.
        Tech: I know, I know.
        Boss: let me explain
        Tech: I know, I know. [leaves]
        Boss [yelling]: Stop, let me explain.
        Boss: had to repeat myself before he would stop and listen. [repeating] you don’t interrupt someone in the conference room without first seeking their okay.

        The main thing is that the OP said that she explained the situation at least three times: the first time, then the “further” explaining, and then the repeating when she called him back into the office. It’s overkill.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think maybe you’re being *too* charitable. :-)

        From the OP:

        He said that he had not realized the guy was on his cell phone when he walked in the room (not sure how he missed it because the guy had a phone to his ear and was talking). I wanted to further explain that you don’t interrupt someone in the conference room without first seeking their okay,

        If we take this as written, the tech was able to explain that he didn’t realize the guy was on the phone, and the OP *still* insisted on telling him not to interrupt someone who is on the phone. Now, if it did happen the way you describe, I’d agree that we’re being unfair to the OP. But in the OP’s own words, it sounds like it was already obvious that the point didn’t need to be made, because the OP misunderstood the situation.

        1. Cranston*

          Also when she “tried to stop him” in front of the employee on the phone–I’m wondering how that looked. Did she herself barge in to tell him not to barge in?

        2. ER...*

          That’s 2 different points though:
          1) don’t interrupt someone on the phone
          2) don’t interrupt someone in the conference room without first seeking their okay.

          OP says don’t interrupt someone on the phone.
          Tech says he didn’t realize the person was on their cell phone
          OP further explains that regardless of the cell phone situation, you don’t interrupt someone in the conference room without first seeking their okay.

          Tech doesn’t seem to say that he didn’t realize there was a person there, just didn’t realize the person was on the phone. And if the point is not to interrupt anyone in the conference room, then not seeing the cell phone excuse doesn’t hold up.

    3. Gandalf the Nude*

      Or if you want to be less uncharitable to the OP:

      OP: Hey, earlier you went in to do your phone update in the conference room Argle was using for a phone call–
      Tech: I know, I know.
      OP: You should really be checking that those rooms are empty before entering, but–
      Tech: I know, I know.
      OP: Let me explain–
      Tech: I know, I know. (Leaves)
      OP: STOP. You need to let me finish.
      Tech: 9_9
      OP: I know you know you’re supposed to check first, and it’s not the end of the world that you didn’t see Argle at first and went in. But when you did realize the room was occupied, you should have stopped and checked with Argle that it was okay for you to be there, not ignore him and continue working. That’s what I’d like you to do in the future. Okay?

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Except that not how the OP describes the conversation. See Sunny-dee’s post above.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          I see Sunny-dee’s post, but I think the problem is y’all are all reading it as OP’s shorthand description being what she said word for word. I don’t think my version of events contradicts the bare bones of what OP laid out.

          And for goodness’ sake, the guy has a history of not listening to directions. It’s not so weird to think that he was just saying “I know, I know” to get out of listening again and continuing to miss the point. At that point, it’s not belaboring a point; it’s trying to make the point at all.

          1. HRChick*

            But she even said the guy said right off the bat that he did not realize the guy was on the phone. This implies he would have acted differently if he knew the guy was involved in something.

            But if they guy was fine with it, I’m not sure why the OP was all upset about it.

            Like others, my experience with IT folks is they’re usually ducking in and out of offices without introduction to do what they need done. So, what the guy did in the OP wouldn’t make people bat an eye.

            1. Gandalf the Nude*

              He said he hadn’t realized the guy was on the phone when he walked in the room, implying to me (and possibly OP) that he realized it at some point while he was in there and didn’t alter course. It doesn’t look to me like OP wanted to chastise the tech for intruding on this one employee this one time but that she wants to tell him in general that’s not how it’s done and how he should handle similar situations in the future.

              And whether that’s your experience with IT folks or not, that’s apparently not how they want it done in that office. And if old habits like what you describe are why the tech is doing what he’s doing, all the more reason for OP to explain that it’s not the way to do it in this office.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Well, yeah, but let’s assume the handset test was something like pick it up and check for a dial tone. Something super quick. He walks in, not realizing Coworker was in there, and sees him, but he’s already interrupted the call. So he just goes ahead and checks the handset, sees its running, and leaves.

                If it’s something that would take a few minutes, I can see leaving until the other guy is gone. But if it’s literally a few seconds and he’s already barged in, I can see just checking it really quickly and ducking out again.

        2. Observer*

          I saw Sunny Dee’s post and it really makes a lot less sense than this reading, given everything she (he?) describes.

    4. BananaPants*

      Yup. I can see Tech Guy being frustrated over being repeatedly hammered over something so simple and minor.

    5. Knope*

      I didn’t read this the same way at all.

      OP “Hey, I tried to stop you from going into the conference room earlier, and you ignored me to walk in anyway”

      Tech “I didn’t see he was on his cell phone”

      OP “Ok, but in the future be careful not to–”

      Tech “I know, I know, I know”

      OP- “I was still talking, next time don’t-”

      Tech “I know, I know, I know” (Walking away, and talking over OP)

      OP- “STOP” (finishes sentence).

      1. OhNo*

        Serious question – is the OP a woman? Because this talking over/ignoring/walking away dynamic is one that I have seen very often when a woman is trying to explain something to a man who Does Not Want To Hear It (regardless of their relative positions on the org chart).

        Despite the gender of the OP, this behavior is not good. But if there’s a gendered component to his behavior, that might require a different approach.

        1. AD*

          Let’s not read gender dynamics into everything on AAM. The OP may be a woman or may not be, and the tech guy seems to have somewhat of a history in not listening well – that most likely means he doesn’t listen to details across the board.

          1. AD*

            And reading through this entire thread, I am lending some credence to the idea that OP is belaboring his/her point. The walking away is not good, but the original conference room situation is not a hill to die on.

      2. Emma*

        This, exactly. But also, talking over someone and “I know, I know” is really, really rude, even if you do think the person (your boss!) speaking to you is belaboring a point.

    6. Observer*

      There is absolutely no evidence that the conversation went that way. And, in fact, what the OP describes is significantly different.

      One of the basic premises of this site is that we accept the FACTS of the letters are written unless there is very specific reason to question it. You’ve provided no reason besides your imagination to describe a very different encounter from what the OP described.

  17. Mr. Mike*

    While there was a lot to say about his behavior in this scenario, I would like to point out that the OP showed some disrespect towards him by snagging the phone on his desk. Regardless of the fact that the phone system is shared, the OP crossed some boundaries by summarily answering the phone in his area while he was standing right there. Not to excuse his response, but the assumption was made that it wasn’t a big deal, but that is a justification for “I was expecting this call” so what I did was okay when his perception of the event was that his space, his boundary is undeserving of respect from his supervisor. If there is a requirement to expect respect, then there is an argument that respect has to be given. Again, that doesn’t mean his behavior was correct, but there is some issue on both sides of this interaction that needs addressing.

  18. LLK80*

    Why couldn’t the person who was on the phone address this with the IT person if they were bothered by it? This feels like the op is micromanaging and/or nitpicking somewhat. I do agree though that if someone is speaking to you, don’t talk over them.

  19. OhNo*

    FWIW, this just sounds like the OP and the tech guy don’t like each other very much. Given how minor most of the offenses mentioned in the letter seem to be, it sounds like it might be BEC mode on both ends.

    That said, since the OP is this guy’s supervisor, it’s definitely worth bringing up that you don’t walk away from your supervisor while they’re talking to you, and you don’t interrupt/ignore your supervisor when they are speaking or explaining something to you. That goes double if you’ve gotten flak for not listening before. No matter who was in the “wrong” in the interaction mentioned here, that part definitely needs to be addressed.

  20. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I really don’t understand all of the criticism of OP, either. He goes into a conference room (who cares about the door status?) while a coworker is in there on the phone. The Way Things Are Done in this particular office is, you don’t do that. It’s OP’s responsibility to make sure that IT Dude understands that in this office, you don’t do that. While she’s trying to explain, he interrupts, talks over her and clearly isn’t listening while he says, “I know, I know”. No, he *doesn’t* know. That’s why she keeps trying to tell him, and he won’t shut up.

    Then, a call comes in on the company line, on an office phone, which she’s been waiting for. The phone nearest her happens to be on his desk. I don’t understand a day-long snit over taking an important call, especially if this was a one-time thing. He could have said something in the moment, such as, “I’m sorry, but I was kind of expecting a call myself,” or some such, and the matter is dealt with. Instead, he glowers all day. That is a passive-aggressive baby.

    Add to that, when asked why he does things he incorrectly, his response is, “I didn’t listen.” How is that acceptable? And he’s not apologizing, either for not listening; or for walking in on the person in the conference room.

    If I were OP, I don’t think I would be as nice as Allison. He doesn’t listen, he doesn’t take constructive criticism, he doesn’t speak up when there is a problem that can be easily solved, and he sulks like a preteen, hoping someone will notice. Given the large number of qualified IT guys out there, who are nice and respectful and act like adults, I’d can him.

    1. MarketingGirl*

      Well I think the reason why we’re all wondering about this entire story is because of the tone OP has in the letter. It’s all about how the IT guy screwed up… but then when OP admits they could have handled a situation more tactfully, it’s HIS response that’s out of line. There’s clearly something more going on here that goes way deeper than a conference room or a phone. Both people screwed up at one point or another, but OP is looking for him to screw up MORE to justify her anger with his responses.

      It sounds like OP is looking for confirmation about her anger, and not truly asking “How do we move forward from this?” or “How do we repair this relationship?” or “How do we address the underlying issues and strengthen our working relationship?” He doesn’t sound like a star employee, but at the same time, she doesn’t sound like she’s his biggest fan. Especially when bringing things up “through the grapevine.”

      1. Roscoe*

        That’s exactly what I got. It seems that she wants validation that her responses to his actions were justified, without looking at whether what she did that caused those actions was to blame

      2. designbot*

        It sounds frankly like both of them could handle themselves better at times, and I wonder if the basic reason that IT is upset is that when he does something she doesn’t like she gets to follow him, yell at him, and otherwise drive her point home, but when she does something he doesn’t like he just has to take it? Of course that’s the way managers work, but if these misunderstandings are fairly common between them I could see that dynamic getting old fast.

          1. designbot*

            well, but managers should also model behavior that’s important to them. The picking up my phone thing would be a strange, intrusive breach of etiquette in my office, as you can’t really pick up my phone without either sitting at my desk or hovering over it tethered closely to me, so doing what OP did would put my station out of commission for the duration of her call. A manager to whom courtesy and etiquette were important and who took their employees to task for breaches of courtesy shouldn’t be pulling that move.

            1. Sami*

              “A manager to whom courtesy and etiquette were important and who took their employees to task for breaches of courtesy shouldn’t be pulling that move.”


      3. aebhel*

        His response IS out of line. In what other world is sulking for a day because someone picked up a shared like and walking away from your boss while she’s talking to you acceptable behavior. A lot of people here are inventing a bunch of imaginary context to make the boss into the villain here, but unless she did something else egregious that’s not in the letter, the tech’s behavior is childish, unprofessional, and way out of line.

        1. Emma*

          This. And frankly, it’s getting really, really annoying that we give the benefit of the doubt to the OP unless it’s the OP vs. IT, and then suddenly it’s all about how a perfectly innocuous letter proves the OP is the root of all evil in her office. God forbid IT do something wrong.

  21. Lady Blerd*

    I think many here are being distracted by how OP acted in this situation. Whether or not they insisted on over explaining to heir underling why he was wrong, said employee was wrong for walking away and THAT is the crux of the issue here. If OP realizes they did overreact to the employee’s actions in the conference room, then they will explain that to the employee at their tête-à-tête as a way to diffuse the situation but that still doesn’t excuse what the employee did. I’ve had to sit through some talking to that I knew were coming because I knew I was wrong, even from people that I couldn’t stand, but I ate it while it happened then vented to friends later. I did not walk away.

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      I definitely think the OP can address the walking away, and the talking over. Right, wrong or indifferent, the tech shouldn’t have been rude by talking over her and walking away.

  22. LQ*

    I’m kind of surprised that you’d say it is ok to answer someone else’s phone. But to get to my phone you’d basically have to body slam me against my desk in a super inappropriate way unless you had arms longer than mine (not my coworkers). I have or have had coworkers do that but it always requires a good bit of shuffling and shifting and being very ok being in someone else’s personal space. It nearly always has a deeply uncomfortable feeling unless I basically fully cede my cube to someone else. I do think there is a physical space element.

    If picking up someone’s phone means touching them, don’t do it unless you are super sure they are ok with it. Even if you are their boss.

  23. One of the Sarahs*

    Re the “taking the call at his desk” – I read it that she was at his desk, heard the call come in on her line across the office, and picked it up from his phone, and that would be totally normal in offices I worked in, with some kind of “I need to take this call, can I pick it up here?” rather than run across the room and risk it bouncing to the pickup group.

    Mind you, I too am a bit weirded out by people jumping to the worst conclusions about the OP. Mind you, I think this happens a lot when it’s calls about IT staff, and I find that interesting.

    1. Emma*

      I think this happens a lot when it’s calls about IT staff, and I find that interesting.

      I find it infuriating, myself.

  24. Gene*

    I wonder how this conversation would be going if the (assumed) gender of the OP and the (known) gender of the tech were reversed.

    Or reversed and the tech wrote the letter.

    “My male boss just told me I did something wrong, and when I acknowledged I was wrong he kept belaboring the point. I said ‘I know I was wrong’ 5 times and he kept chastising me. I even tried to walk away and he yelled at me to stop to get dressed down again.”

    1. a*

      I don’t think it would be very different, actually. Plenty of commenters are discussing the possibility that OP was over-explaining.

    2. Observer*

      Actually, what you wrote and what the OP described do not match.

      Also, I don’t think that Allison would have told any letter writer that it’s ok to walk away from your boss while he or she is still talking, nor to talk over your boss.

      Walking out is only acceptable id you REALLY must run, in which case YOU EXPLAIN and go, or it the boss is being abusive, not just annoying. When YOUR part of the conversation is talking over your boss and “I know, I know” – NOT “I know I was wrong” – two totally different things! – you lose any high ground.

  25. NW Mossy*

    It’s interesting to see how we all have different takes on this one! I read the repeated “I know, I know” as an attempt by the tech to dismiss/deflect the feedback, particularly when coupled with walking away. Even if I think my boss is belaboring a point beyond what’s strictly necessary for me to understand, giving her my attention for an extra minute is a very minor imposition. If there’s some specific reason why I can’t delay at that exact moment, I would at least say “Gotta run to a meeting – we’ll touch base after!” or some such rather than just leaving her there with her mouth open mid-sentence.

    Concerns about a broader pattern of over-explaining would be best addressed in a 1-on-1 with something like “I notice that you often restate your feedback to me several times, even when I’ve said I understand. Is there something I’m doing that makes you think I’m not taking it seriously?”

    1. TL -*

      Oh, I use phrases like, “I know, I know,” when someone is hammering a point home that I got a long time ago (not at work because professionalism but it took a while to get there). When I’m responding like that, it generally means you are spending way too much time on something that I already understand and seriously irritating me. I think readers with a similar mindset are reading it like that.

      If I had to guess, I’d bet that the OP likes to talk and explain in great detail and tech guy really likes shorter, more concise communication and they’re different enough that it’s causing problems.

      1. NW Mossy*

        And I think that’s exactly why you have to be really careful with using “I know, I know” as your response. If what you mean is “I understand your point and I’m clear on what I need to do/not do going forward,” say that. Otherwise, you risk being misinterpreted as someone who doesn’t care about what’s being said and isn’t listening, thereby triggering the exact overexplaining behavior you’re hoping to shut down.

        The more I think about it, the more I think that this scenario is what’s playing out here. Tech and the OP are in something of a negative loop around feedback because neither is being direct enough with the point they want to communicate. The OP’s need to be clear about what the key points of the feedback and the expected action, while the tech needs to be equally clear that he understands and will act. It’ll probably feel super-weird for both of them for a while, but it’s probably the only way they’re going to avoid this problem of inadvertently winding each other up.

      2. Observer*

        I’m reading this after seeing the OP’s later comments, but I would still say what I’m about to write:

        Even if you were right, the tech’s response is way, way out of line. Your boss is belaboring the point? Bite your tongue. Talking over him, repeating “I know, I know” and walking out(!) are not acceptable, even individually. All three in one conversation?! Especially when the guy has a track record of missing things because – per his OWN ADMISSION – he just didn’t listen!

    2. Emma*

      I read the repeated “I know, I know” as an attempt by the tech to dismiss/deflect the feedback, particularly when coupled with walking away.

      That’s exactly what it was, especially when coupled with a) his previous ignoring of her directions to leave the conference room and b) the fact that his refusing to listen has been an issue multiple times before.

      Frankly at this point the guy should be on a PIP.

  26. Milton Waddams*

    Is there a chance you were being the stereotypical oblivious manager? In the past I’ve had bosses like that — deciding that the best time in the world to launch into a monologue is while a customer is waiting to be helped, or a very time-sensitive deadline is down to the wire, because (to be perfectly frank) other than whatever TPS report related issue they happened to be talking about, they had very little understanding of what their employees actually did on a day-to-day basis, so they didn’t know good vs bad times to interrupt.

  27. OP*

    Sorry that I’m so late in reading today.

    Thanks for all the feedback.

    My concern was over IT guys reaction. I meant this as a gentle reminder that we should give people privacy when they are taking calls, personal or business related, if it’s non-essential work. This was not supposed to be a big ordeal.

    Last week, I had to assign the same guy some tech maintenance work. The assignment came from one of the officers of the company, who asked me to make sure he did the work. Before I could even finish detailing the assignment, tech guy got mad, started yelling, and literally stomped out of my office and continued yelling down the hallway. This time I let him go.

    I have every intention of addressing this, but I am trying to find the right words.

    1. Ultraviolet*

      Is “You’re fired” an option? Those words feel right to me. (Okay, I’m being cavalier because it’s not my job in question. This sounds like a serious performance issue on his part to me though, and I do think you need to address it seriously and require that it stop if he wants to stick around.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Also, I want to apologize to you, OP, for the crap you’ve taken in the comments here, which I don’t think was deserved at all. What you’ve written here aligns with how your letter originally read to me.

          Honestly, some days I want to close comments forever. 99% of the time I think the comment section here is great, and then occasionally there’s a pile-on like this that makes me wonder why I’m encouraging letter-writers to read the comments, and makes me feel awful for subjecting them to that.

          1. OP*

            No apologies needed. I wanted the feedback realizing that people would see the situation from different angles.

            1. Drew*

              This is a very gracious reply to some pretty questionable treatment by other commenters here, OP. Thank you for taking the high road.

            2. Kyrielle*

              I don’t have any useful advice or commentary on the original topic, but OP, thank you for coming back and adding details to help us understand, and for being so gracious about the initial reactions.

            3. Klem*

              Really, though, that was unwarranted. I imagine you were pretty taken aback and hope that you recognized what looks to me like a lot of projection out there. Your IT guy reminds me of my kid when he was a teenager, parroting back whatever words he thought would placate me and let him do what he wanted to. You can tell when nothing’s sunk in and they have no intention of following through with whatever they just promised to do. It’s frustrating with a kid, but most grow out of that special kind of arrogance once they have to deal with real life. But it’s unacceptable in an employee, and maybe it’s wake-up time for your guy. Best wishes for finding a joy-to-work-with replacement. Good luck!

            4. INFJ*

              I think there are plenty of people out there who have bad experiences being micromanaged and/or overchastized at work, and therefore tend to see employee-manager situations through that lens when there is room for interpretation. These “reading beyond what’s in the letter” analyses are inevitable when there’s only so much information that can be given in the letter.

          2. Drew*

            Selfishly, I hope you don’t; I usually like reading the comments (when I can find the time!).

            Realistically, I know you might have to.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Well, I’d stop encouraging letter-writers to read the comments before I’d fully close them. I’m having a stressful month and am feeling a little punchy — but I found the reaction to this post incredibly frustrating.

              1. Sincaru*

                Isn’t the whole point of comments to provide a new POV to an OP who might not be seeing the situation from the right angles? Not the case here of course, given the new details provided, but in general (I haven’t commented but was agreeing with the negative comments prior to reading the additional information). I’m sure that as business professionals we all have a skin that is thick enough to take any of these reasoned comments (none of which are profane, crude, or insult the OP’s character, but rather reflect on the situation from what is written)?

                I’m not sure that coddling an OP and saying “no negative comments allowed” would be the solution – if someone has a problem and does not realize they are the cause of it, that is the whole reason why the write in to you – to get different perspectives from you and your comment base. If you fear that some people will not write in for this reason, that may happen – but you already say that you have a long queue of emails and that you are not able to answer all of them, so if the [ex.] 10% of OPs that are scared of commenters not agreeing with them stop writing in, that would not affect you too much?

                1. One of the Sarahs*

                  It’s not coddling, though – it’s that almost any question that includes a hint of an IT person (for example) being wrong, people will jump all over the OP, making all kinds of leaps to say how they must have been in the wrong – the comments upthread about hectoring, for example, when there’s nothing in the letter to suggest it.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The issue isn’t “no negative comments allowed.” It’s when people pile on with assumptions that we have no grounds for making and present them as if they must be fact.

                  Something like this is totally fine:

                  “I wonder if you’ve considered that he might be reacting this way because he felt hectored.”

                  This is not:

                  “You’re obviously hectoring him and being a jerk.”

              2. Ellie H.*

                I’m a little surprised to hear this as of all the comment sections with a lot of vocal perspectives, this one didn’t register to me as excessive or very harsh to the OP. I agree that the characterization of the IT guy we get from the updates are very different from the initial description of the situation, and that the additional context gives a very different reading from the original letter, so the commenting reaction seems to me like a communication breakdown rather than an assumption of bad faith and corresponding vindictiveness. In my reading it doesn’t strike me as a pile on as much as a lot of people just agreed about their perspective on the situation as it was presented in the original letter, and none strikes me as really unfair – there are just a high volume of comments. I agree with the general sentiment that sometimes points can get really belabored in comments and it’s good to try to curb that, this one just didn’t strike me as especially like that.

                I do think that when there is such a high volume of comments, even mild tones get very amplified in the aggregate, but I imagine it is hard to address or minimize this effect.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  See, I didn’t think the OP’s updates in the comments provided anything all that different from what I read in the original letter — they seemed really in keeping with my initial interpretation. So maybe that accounts for the difference in perspective here — if you read it the way I did initially, a lot of the comments came across as bizarrely unfounded and rude.

                2. LBK*

                  I agree with Alison that the follow up comments seem perfectly in line with what the OP described in the letter. I think this one was all about how you visualized the conversation playing out – I read it exactly as Alison scripted it above.

          3. Trout 'Waver*

            I think almost every one has been in the situation where they screwed up, they know they screwed up, but someone insists on rubbing their nose in it by over-explaining something they already know. Without the additional details provided by the OP in the comments here, it’s not a far stretch for people to project their own experiences onto this one.

      1. OP*

        In this company, managers can suggest firing, but it’s a decision that ultimately is made by the top brass, who love to complain about bad workers but hate the idea of firing nice people.

        1. Ultraviolet*

          Oh man, that sounds like a really difficult position for a manager to be in. It sounds like you have a lot less authority than you need in order to actually manage people. I think it makes sense to really pursue firing this guy though. He’s done several egregious things, so you’ll be able to build a strong case for it.

        2. Observer*

          Start documenting your head off. And be especially careful in documenting the interpersonal stuff in a way that shows that the effects of his attitude problem. You don’t want this to look like you just don’t like him. You want to make it clear that he is causing real problems, and that the usual “But he’s such a nice guy!” doesn’t really apply here. He’s not. Even issues where he might have a point are being handled in a very NOT “nice person” way. I mean, I can understand someone getting annoyed with someone leaning over their desk and picking up the phone without any explanation (to put the worst spin on what happened). But, reacting like a bratty 10 year old in a sulky fit is way out of line.

          I saw below that they guy on the phone was in the middle of a family emergency. That’s the kind of “side” information that’s relevant in this kind of situation, because it helps to flesh out the problem in a way that higher ups might understand.

    2. sunny-dee*

      Yeah, see THAT is a major issue. With only the context in the original letter, it felt like it was just a miscommunication that spiraled over a really minor incident.

      But this is something else entirely. This is a performance problem and an attitude problem.

    3. ceiswyn*

      Now, yelling and stomping out is an entirely different kettle of fish! Even if there’s a problem with different communication styles that’s causing IT guy frustration*, yelling and stomping out is WAY beyond frustration. It’s more like bullying behaviour, and it’s definitely a fireable offence.

      (* Communication styles is something that caused me problems with a previous boss. He had a tendency to completely misconstrue how much information he needed to give me, and set up a half-hour meeting to explain irrelevant details when he just had to email me a link to a project page. But the solution to that was for me to work on patient listening and education, and for him to work on understanding what it is I actually do. Yelling and stomping – no. Just no.)

  28. OP*

    A few other clarifications to some of the comments here. I did not get a chance to talk to tech guy as he went into the conference room. The other guy on the phone was in the middle of a family crisis and I did not want to be a further interruption to his phone call.

    I did not pull him aside later. I waited for later in the afternoon, when I knew he would be coming to my office for his usual end of the day reports.

    I had no intention of making this a conversation where I fussed at him. I simply wanted him to understand that he should get someone’s ok before just barging in and that when it’s non-essential work it should wait.

    The tech guy never acknowledge what he knew when he kept saying, “I know”. Because he kept saying, “I know”, I never even got the chance to say what I had to say until I raised my voice.

    This is the way our office works, you don’t barge into someone’s room without asking and never when someone is on a phone call unless its urgent.

    1. a*

      I just want to say that it’s really nice that you came back and added some clarification, even though there were a lot of comments that interpreted the situation as you being at fault. I have to admit, when I read the letter that was my first impression too, because I’ve had several managers who would repeat themselves in a patronizing way. But the context that you’ve added here completely changed my perspective.

    2. Miss Nomer*

      Just my two cents, but even if you had been belaboring the point (which you weren’t!) it still is absolutely not appropriate for him to behave this way. Honestly, this could help his career. If I had an attitude problem like this, it would be hard to hear it, but I would eventually appreciate it.

    3. Knope*

      Thank you for the information! I’m not sure how your original message got so misconstrued by so many people, but I think Alison’s response and support was spot on. I’m so sorry you had to deal with this tech’s disrespect and the craziness of this comment thread; it’s been really bothering me all day. Good luck with everything! We’re with you in spirit!

    4. Callietwo*

      I had hit refresh before I started my comment below.. but I guess I took too long! I was so taken aback by the comments I had to add my two cents! Our office works the same way, you do not enter without checking when someone is on the phone!!

  29. Anonymous 40*

    I’m a little baffled by the general response to this letter. I’ve managed help desks in several previous jobs and if this tech worked for me, I wouldn’t be happy with him either. What I’m seeing in this letter is a very self-centered technician with poor professional skills.

    1. Checking on the conference room phone can wait until later if someone’s using the room. If it’s a room with no window and the door’s closed, and you open it to find someone already in there, you politely say, “Oh, excuse me. I’ll come back later.” You don’t assume someone else’s reason for being in the room is less important than yours. Finish checking the other phones. Do some other work if necessary. Barging into a room that’s in use, even just by one person, for your own convenience isn’t a good look. And if someone’s in there, they’re using the room.

    Yes, IT people are frequently in conference rooms during meetings they don’t attend. Those times should always be due to a technical issue interrupting the meeting – a projector wouldn’t connect, remote control wouldn’t work, etc. That’s entirely different than entering an occupied conference room to conduct routine work.

    2. The tech being territorial about his office phone is strange. It’s office equipment, not personal property, and it doesn’t sound like the manager using it briefly disrupted his work at all. But here again, his personal preference is his main concern.

    3. Talking over his manager saying “I know, I know” and walking away? No. No way. The message here, loud and clear, is, “Shut up and stop bothering me.” It’s just such a juvenile way for a professional in the workplace to behave. It’s completely unacceptable to be so disrespectful to anyone in the workplace, much less your manager. This is someone being paid to do a job and responding to correction like a sulky teenager.

    4. I’d also want to know why potentially disruptive phone work is being done during business hours in the first place. If it’s to fix a problem disrupting the office’s operations, fine. Otherwise it should be done after hours. Not middle of the night or anything, just once the business day is over. Yeah, it sucks, but that’s life in IT.

    Nonsense like this is a huge part of the reason IT has the reputation it does in so many organizations. If I were this technician’s manager, I’d let it go until the next day and then have a calm, clear conversation about my expectations for his professional skills. Another day like this one might well result in a PIP.

    1. LBK*

      Great comment that outlines my exact thoughts on this situation. I’m pretty shocked people are going after the OP here for…what? Trying to provide feedback to one of her employees, maybe in a slightly less than ideal way, but certainly not in an inappropriate way? And somehow the employee who snaps at his boss and tries to leave the room in the middle of the conversation (!!!!!) is the victim?

      I’d like anyone here defending the employee to genuinely tell me that they would do what the employee did in any situation other than the boss verbally abusing you (which the OP did not even remotely come close to). I think if you put yourself in his shoes for a second, almost everyone here would’ve handled this situation completely differently. Even if you thought your boss’s feedback was stupid and that you already understood it and the point was being belabored, I’m 100% confident in everyone’s professionalism here that no one would have tried to talk over their boss or tried to walk out of the room (again, !!!!!).

      I’ve found that to be a trend here recently, actually – it feels to me like people are defending a lot of bad employee behavior without putting themselves in the employee’s shoes and thinking “Would I, as a presumably good employee, have done the same thing?”

  30. Chaordic One*

    I kind of feel like we don’t really have enough information from the OP to make a good recommendation. There are a whole bunch of different reasons why the tech walked away and we and the OP don’t know what they are. OTOH, there seems to be a lot of demand for IT people so he should be able to find another job easily enough.

    1. Kaz*

      If I was to defend the IT guy, I would point out that OP changed his/her story later…after negative comments that don’t support the OP’s side were published. Seems very convenient that these new additions to the story further demonize the IT guy. No I’m not an IT guy.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        What on earth? I don’t see anything of that in the OP’s comments, and I’m going to ask that you read the commenting guidelines (linked above the comment box) before commenting further here, because that’s really out of sync with how I’d like people to talk to letter writers here.

        1. Boss Cat Meme*

          I meant to reply to Kaz–that is absolutely not true that the OP “changed her story” or added new info. I understood her meaning and intent from the original letter. It was clear from the beginning.

  31. Kaz*

    Seems to me that the manager is too sensitive. This situation is not a big deal. It will however be a big deal if the manager has a meeting on it. Let it go. It will turn from a small deal to no deal. Address it with a meeting and it will become a big deal. As the saying goes, “be alpha” about this. Don’t get pricked so easily.

      1. LCL*

        Gross? I read ‘pricked’ as don’t be so fragile, like a balloon, where the least little scratch makes it blow up. Anything could be an adult innuendo, I guess, if the reader/listener works hard enough at it.

        1. aebhel*

          I don’t think it’s gross because it’s adult innuendo, I think it’s gross because (a) the whole concept of ‘be alpha’ is pretty offensive when it’s applied to human behavior and (b) this kind of attitude shifts the blame from the person who’s behaving poorly to the person who’s bothered by the poor behavior.

          Can’t speak for LBK, but that’s my read.

          1. Kaz*

            Contrary to popular belief, being alpha does not mean being a jerk, or violent or angry or disrespectful. Alpha means someone who is not prone to drama, who avoids trouble and who’s very presence and demeanor calms people down. Alphas treat people with respect because they want to avoid trouble. Anyone can be alpha, man or woman, short or tall, young or old, big or small. The word has obtained a negative meaning due to it’s association with misbehaving adolescent boys. Alphas don’t fight, alphas don’t disrespect people, alphas also don’t get all excited and hurt when someone is not behaving exactly the way they want them to. Alphas don’t overreact. They keep cool under pressure and know when to get involved in a situation and when not to get involved in a situation. These are qualities that everyone should have.

            1. LBK*

              I have never heard that definition of alpha and I don’t know where you got it from. I’ve only ever heard it applied to humans in the context of “alpha male” and perpetuated by TRP/PUA types.

              1. LCL*

                This is from dog training, with some behaviorism thrown in. Nothing wrong with applying behaviorism principles at work, as long as it is done humanely. I think Kaz is exactly right in their definition of alpha.
                I am dismayed by a very recent trend of referring to discriminatory behavior, or behavior that appears to be discriminatory, as ‘gross’. In this context it is a word used to shut down discussion and has no more meaning than icky. If you see discrimination, call it out, and state how it is discriminatory.

                1. Ultraviolet*

                  I disagree that “gross” shuts down the discussion. Look at what happened here: LBK called out the problematic term as gross, Kaz responded to elucidate their meaning, and LBK replied with a more thorough explanation of their thoughts.

                  Moreover though, there is no obligation to engage with discriminatory behavior every time it comes up. It’s fine to express disapproval and move on.

                2. aebhel*

                  I am dismayed by a very recent trend of accusing anyone who disagrees, or expresses disagreement in all but the most constrained of terms, of ‘shutting down discussion’.

                  Nobody has been threatened into silence, discussion is continuing, people are just expressing their (strong) disagreement with the terminology used. In this case, I don’t think that ‘alpha’ is a discriminatory term, I just think it’s distasteful–or, well, to put it more colloquially, gross.

                3. LBK*

                  Well the discussion is still going and I’ve replied multiple times, so if I was trying to shut it down I clearly failed. And it is gross – are you saying discrimination is not disgusting?

                  I still don’t see how the language Kaz used even remotely relates to this situation. I think the rest of the commenters here can attest to me generally being a charitable reader willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I can’t draw anything from his comparison to an alpha other than a weak metaphor that basically tells the OP that to be a good leader, you have to keep your mouth shut.

            2. LBK*

              Also, a manager giving their employee feedback is not being “prone to drama” or causing trouble. The employee who did something rude and then followed it up with more rude behavior is the one being prone to drama and causing trouble, and providing that person feedback is literally the manager’s job – the “alpha” concept doesn’t apply here, we’re not in a tribe in the woods.

            3. SarahTheEntwife*

              Given that the popular use of “alpha” is so different from the way it’s apparently used in dog training, maybe pick a less-confusing metaphor unless you’re talking to people who are actually familiar with canine behavior? I’ve almost exclusively heard it used to mean “overbearing macho jerk” when describing humans.

              1. LBK*

                FWIW, in a cursory search I can’t find anything to suggest it has a meaning in dog training other than the dominant leader, which is the same origin as its cultural usage in referencing the stereotypical human “alpha male”.

                I suppose at best the metaphor being evoked is that a dog that doesn’t bark or bite is the same as a human who’s able to remain calm and collected in a tense situation, but that’s still bad, insulting advice to the OP. It equates her giving feedback to her employee (which, again, is literally her job) to barking at him – it’s essentially just telling the OP to get over it, couched in pseudointellectual terms. And that’s not even going down the road of the gendered element of comparing a woman with a dog.

            4. aebhel*

              Alpha as applied to human behavior is an entirely invented term that was culled from research on captive wolves. It means, in general parlance, ‘dominant’, and is distasteful for exactly that reason. What you are describing is ‘maturity’ or ‘well-adjusted adult behavior’.

          2. LBK*

            Yeah, exactly what I meant. “Don’t let things get under your skin” is not a relevant adage here because it implies the OP, as manager, is overreacting in giving feedback to her employee for something that is a genuine issue. It doesn’t apply and is insulting, and I really dislike the connotations of saying you should be “alpha” here, which usually holds equivalent meaning to telling someone to man up.

  32. Callietwo*

    I work in a cube farm and we are directed to make confidential work related calls AND any personal calls in the conference rooms and we all have both land and mobile lines and use both. I also have several disabilities of which I discuss symptoms and whatnot with my PCP/Nurses via the PRIVATE conference room while on my cell. I would be pissed if someone came barging in, I don’t care who it was, unless I was at risk for bodily harm from an intruder (we’ve had multiple lockdowns since I started due to threats.) I can see me turning to the IT guy and telling him to GTFO if it was of that kind of personal call and giving the stink eye if it were work related that was confidential enough to require my heading into the conference room.

    As for the manager answering the phone, I understand it’s a shared line and he saw the call on the caller ID but I would still let the guy answer his own phone OR at the very least say “Oh, it’s such and such, I’ve been waiting for their call” as I picked up. I do think the default should be to let the person who is assigned in that office space to answer their own call but it sounds like this IT person is acting like a total child about it (by gossiping about it, walking away from the manager when they’re being spoken to, etc rather than addressing his concerns directly.)

    And walking away from the manager when they’re speaking? Oh hell no. That is simply not acceptable when it’s actually work related. A sit down to address that behavior is definitely called for in that case, in my opinion.

  33. Lunchy*

    I’m surprised at all the people defending the IT guy.
    Even if he/she picked up his phone, even if she reprimanded him more than necessary, even if she raised her voice, this is still *his manager*. You don’t act like that toward a superior. You just don’t.
    When I make mistakes at my job (and I’m still pretty new), my boss will sit me down and explain the entire process to me again, like I’m incompetent and have no idea what I’m doing, even if I just transpose numbers in an address. I can’t just cut in and say, “GAWD I KNOW, I’M NOT STUPID,” no matter how much I want to. I sit there, nod, and thank her when I leave.
    You do not treat your boss the way IT guy did. Full stop. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

    1. Emma*

      Thing is, you can actually politely and professionally explain to your manager that yes, you realize your mistake and won’t do it again. But that is so not what this guy did. “I know, I know,” talking over someone, and walking out is all for one purpose only – to be dismissive.

      I’m shocked at how so many people are defending him and trying to make the OP out to be the villain here.

  34. Jules*

    My 2 cents

    #1 I think the employee warrants some coaching. As in, let’s go and find a spot to have coffee and talk about what is going on. Put on your listening hat and bring your most compassionate self and ask neutral questions. Like, ‘I noticed lately that you’ve been upset about ___, talk to me about that.’ Listen, don’t judge and be empathetic. Ask follow up questions about how you can help smooth his path in order to set him on the path of success. The reason why I suggest this is because you said that your employer would not likely fire him. You can either give up or try to find the ‘right handle’. (10 points if you can guess which book this came from)

    #2 Don’t listen to gossip. He said, she said starts terrible drama which you don’t need at work. If someone tells you something, you can listen and respond with, ‘He/she is a grown adult and if it bothers him, she should come and talk to me about it. I would love to explain what happened in that situation to him.’ Don’t feed the troll. Some trolls enjoy starting blood baths and feels amazing to see other people tearing each other down.

    Now, I am saying this as a 3rd person who has no involvement and no skin in the game as you do. You know your situation best. But I would channel my best ‘What would AAM do?’ when situation arises so I don’t descend to the level of inappropriateness even when I would love to wallow in the mud with the pigs (10 points if you have read the book)

    Good luck and I hope things work out for you.

  35. DQ*

    IT guy is out of line and has a bad attitude that needs to be adjusted. His behavior is not acceptable and he needs to bring his own importance down a notch.
    That said, OP please consider if you are micro-managing him. I don’t want to make assumptions or pile on you here but a couple of things popped into my head as I was reading this. First, you meet with him daily to go over a daily report? This seems like quite a lot, most IT professionals have a more autonomy than that. Maybe this is perfectly acceptable in your environment, but in this field, it really isn’t. Is he new to your organization? If so, he may be reacting to this and that may be what you need to address “listen Fergus, I know you may not be used to writing and then verbally delivering a daily report to your Manager but this is why we do that here and I’m sure that after some time you’ll get used to it.”
    Second, the “I didn’t listen” conversation seemed strange to me. “I didn’t listen” is an unusual response. If there was a piece of an instruction that he missed, I’d expect “oh, I missed that part” or “I thought that was more of a suggestion for how I might do it”. I could be wrong, but I’d re-think that one and see if there was something in that situation where he might have felt like he was being micro-managed.
    I didn’t get the impression that you are also in IT, but that you have one IT guy who reports to you. Consider if he feels like you might not have a solid understanding, and therefore appreciation for the work that he does. Again….this doesn’t excuse his behavior, but if any of this is actually happening, you’ll want to correct it before you risk frustrating a future awesome IT person.

  36. Hecate*

    As an IT gal, I see this behavior all of the time in my field and department. It’s gross and I’m sorry, OP. IT folks often need to learn etiquette. I work with someone with a personality similar to this IT guy and he does a good job but he’s a holy terror to work with.

  37. Boss Cat Meme*

    Just because someone says, “I know, I know, I know,” doesn’t mean that the person is putting that knowledge into practice. It sounds as if the IT guy has had issues with this before, when he “didn’t listen.” Why doesn’t he listen? Is he that focused on a mission, is he just spacing out, whatever, it sounds like he has been told of this before, and his response of rudely interrupting and saying, “I know, I know,” sounds much more like he is trying to shut down another reprimand from the boss. This is a pretty common communication issue with men and women especially.

    Regardless, the OP is still “the boss.” It’s just plain stupid to be rude to the boss like that. OP is making some very reasonable requests – -to get an “ok” from someone using the phone in the conference room. It truly does not matter if the call was personal or not, if that the culture of the office. The IT guy would be smarter to just let the OP finish her sentence and then just say, “yes, Ma”am, or sir, I will work on that.” End of drama. You have to learn how to reasonably communicate with men and women at the office–leave your mommy issues at home.

  38. Ikke*

    What was the (re) action of the person on a cell while in the Conference Room? Did they wave the tech in, maybe hold up their hand to stop? This is omitted data. Was there signage “Room In Use” that was active?

    Projects involving facility-wide upgrades and installations are completed by seeing the opportunity and taking it. I hear a tech needing to work on the phone, and seeing it unoccupied.

    The OP was at the tech’s desk, apparently was able to ID an incoming call as their own, and snatched up the tech’s handset and took the call. Without eye contact or a smile to the tech, or exclaiming “Oh, may I just answer this, then I’ll take it back at my desk” while OP perhaps hovers their hand over it-? Maybe the tech was at their desk waiting for their own call, and wasn’t given the chance to say so.

    Is OP a smoker, wears clanging or dangling jewelry, makeup that smudges, or wearing strong cologne? Plenty of reasons for the phone’s owner to protest its use.
    Did OP talk loudly into the tech’s phone, or sit or lean on the tech’s desk while using a desktop phone which likely has a short cord? Did OP later tell the tech, “Sorry, I really had to make sure I got that call! How’s your project coming?”

    I’m hearing the OP has a strong “All the things are MINE!” and in this telling, comes off as a aggressive blowhard, further acting as if the Conference room cell user cannot negotiate a common workplace interaction with a facial or hand signal.

    While the tech did walk off, they’d effectively been erased by the aggression of OP and this was the result. Everyone needs a cool-down whilst OP needs to check their premise.

  39. Huggies*

    A person has every right to walk away from a situation. Retail employees have done it to me which was considerably rude as I was still standing at the counter asking questions. If people can do it to me than I can do it to others, why should I be fair when everyone else is not? No more.

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