I’m being trained by a stressed and grumpy coworker, how can I stop rambling in interviews, and more

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

1. I’m being trained by a stressed and grumpy coworker

I have been at my current company for over five years. I recently moved to a new group within my department. In my new group of four, we all have different tasks and responsibilities. One of my group members (let’s call her Sally), has been with the company for a couple years, and moved to the same group as me this year. Sally has relayed several times that her previous boss and she did not have a good working relationship and she was excited to have our new boss.

The first few months in this job, everything was fine. Sally and I were chatting and very friendly. Our workloads did not overlap. However, I am now to assist her with some of her tasks (so she is not the single point of failure for some of these admin tasks) and she has been training me when she is free. Now it seems she is frustrated and miserable when talking to me. She is in charge of exporting a lot of reports and financial data to our executive team on a monthly basis. However, her toolset is quite frustrating to use, and she is not in charge of compliance for the data (think time card entries). The reports break, and this is on a monthly basis. She seems miserable around this time, and she has no control over the reports breaking.

I tell her she can only escalate the situation to the executives, and it’s their decision if they want to prioritize fixing the reports. If the executives choose not to prioritize this, then she shouldn’t be stressed out if she communicated her status and anticipated completion due to issues at hand. Something tells me she does not like me questioning her toolset, stress level, and work style while she is training me on her admin tasks. I am only asking questions though to gain more insight as to why things work the way they do. I am also used to criticizing our internal toolset in my previous group and never received negative responses. The other day I commented on something and she got up and walked away from training me. I don’t know how to talk to Sally about her being stressed out for one week out of every month while training me. I am nervous that if I confront her, she will no longer train me and I will be left to fail on supporting her admin tasks.

Yeah, Sally does not want you making those comments. We can debate whether or not she’s right in feeling that way, but the reality seems pretty clear: By continuing to comment on this stuff, you’re alienating and/or annoying her.

But it doesn’t sound like you have to continue that in order to get the information you need from her. Accept that she’s stressed and frustrated at the work situation and that she doesn’t want your input about it; you don’t need to coach her or advise her about it! Just let her train you, tell her how much you appreciate her showing you things, and leave it at that.

2. How can I stop rambling in interviews?

I have been in a job search for four months and beginning to really feel the pressure to land a new job. I am finding it very difficult during phone interviews to be concise with my answers, like my subconscious is telling me “this is your shot, make sure you tell them everything!” It seems to creep up on me, and I can tell by the interviewers response that I have probably provided too much.

Can you provide some guidance on how to correct this almost involuntary behavior?

You need to practice ahead of time! Write down the questions you’re most likely to be asked in interviews and then practice answering them with a timer. Limit yourself to 90 seconds on each one, and keep practicing until you can do it in that amount of time — and then practice over and over, because that will lodge those shorter answers in your brain. (You can use my free guide to preparing for an interview to help with this; it has the questions you should prepare for and more advice on how to practice your answers.) 90 seconds probably sounds like very little time, but it’s actually the length you should be striving for with most initial answers.

Keep in mind, too, that if you feel like you have a lot more to say, you can always ask at the end of an answer, “Does that give you what you’re looking for, or would you like me to go more in depth about this?” If your interviewer wants more, she’ll say so.

Also, practice stopping at the end of your answer and staying silent. Many interviewers will wait to see if you’re going to keep talking or not before they resume, and many nervous ramblers get freaked out by the silence and start talking again — so you want to practice not doing that.

3. Helping a coworker who’s going through a rough financial time

One of my coworkers is going through a rough time financially and having trouble scraping together enough money to cover food and bills. I want to help her out, at least with groceries, but I’m not sure if she would accept (today she didn’t have a lunch and I offered her some of the bread and peanut butter I keep at work – she accepted, but seemed embarrassed about it). I’m thinking about leaving a grocery store gift card on her desk anonymously but since we just had this conversation she’d probably guess it was me. I don’t want to embarrass her, but I feel badly that someone who works at the same place I do is struggling to make ends meet while I’m living comfortably. I want to help. What do you think would be appropriate?

This is a situation where a white lie will make it easier on both of you. Can you just happen to have received a gift card to a grocery store you rarely go to and see if she wants to take it off your hands?

4. Can I use this story of workplace conflict in a job interview?

I’m currently preparing for an interview, and thinking about the dreaded “handling conflict” question. The only things I can think of are a) really bland and minor incidents or b) times when things were handled badly. So my question is: what should I have done in the conflict below, and is it ever a good idea to say in an interview “this is an example of something I did badly and I would handle it differently in the future?”

The context was a company which already had a pretty bad atmosphere and a divide between two teams on different floors. I was the only native English speaker working there (this was in Europe). Every day someone on the top floor would send around an email that there was tea/coffee ready in the top floor breakroom and the ground floor team could come up if they wanted. People would find “funny” ways to avoid sending the same boring message every day. One day one of the upstairs group, a man, sent a message with one of those “old-fashioned greeting card” memes saying something like “time for tea, bitches!”

I replied-all with something fairly neutral but clear, like “please don’t use that word, I find it offensive and it’s not appropriate for the workplace.” The girlfriend of the meme-sender then replied all “explaining” that bitch wasn’t a sexist term in that context. I admit, at this point I did see red and emailed back “I don’t need help understanding my own native language and it absolutely is offensive because of XYZ”. (I know some people are into “reclaiming” words – I’m not, and I think if you are it’s all well and good in your own time, but not in the workplace and not if you’re not part of the “target” group.)

Long story short, it ended up in an all-staff meeting because of the “bad atmosphere that had developed,” where the meme-sender pulled the irritating technique of suggesting I just had no sense of humour, I barely kept from crying because of the frustration of trying to explain myself in a foreign language, and nothing really got resolved. Funny memes over email stopped, but no one from management even said anything about the original offensive language. I just avoided the guy until I left that job a few months later, which was pretty easy since we were on different teams and floors.

So, now I accept that I probably could have avoided escalating things by talking to the guy privately, but another part of me thinks if you’re going to email your whole workplace with an offensive word, you deserve to be called out in the same forum. What do you think, and could I ever use (a less detailed version) as a “lessons learned” story, or does it just all reflect terribly on me?

Noooo, don’t use it. It’s way too much drama. In general in interviews, you want to avoid sharing stories that put you at the center of drama (even if you were in the right) or that involve you reacting heatedly.

5. How do “interim” roles work?

A few months ago, I applied for a job I’m pretty excited about. The hiring process was put on hold after the hiring manager left for another position, and now that they’ve replaced that person, they’re bringing me in for an interview next week. (Phew!)

After some fairly heavy duty LinkedIn searching, I discovered that someone who was previously in a more junior position at the company has been acting as the “interim [job title]” while they waited to fill the role. I don’t have any experience with interim positions and wondered if you could shed some light on how this kind of thing works.

Is it more likely that they’ll hire the “interim” person to be the new full-time [job title]? Will they drop back down to their original job title if someone else is hired? Is there no consistency in how it works?

Purely out of curiosity, how does salary work if you’re in that situation — do you get bumped up to the more senior salary level temporarily, if you revert to your original, more junior position after the hiring process is completed?

It totally depends. Sometimes the interim person does end up getting hired into the role. Sometimes they’re a serious candidate but someone external ends up being better and gets the job instead. And sometimes it’s pretty clear from the start that they’re not the right person for the job long-term and they’re simply being asked to keep things running at a basic level while the employer searches for someone who can do the job in its entirety and at the level needed. In the last case, they usually return to their previous job once someone is hired to take over the role.

Someone acting in an interim role is usually given a temporary salary bump. It’s not necessarily the same salary the position would normally pay, in part because interim roles are often streamlined versions of the “real” role and so the demands aren’t quite as high. But it really just depends on how the company does things and what the interim person negotiates.

{ 281 comments… read them below }

  1. Fortitude Jones*

    #1

    Something tells me she does not like me questioning her toolset, stress level, and work style while she is training me on her admin tasks.

    Yeah…don’t do that, especially the part about questioning her stress level. How she manages that is personal and not your concern. Since you haven’t been performing these duties before, you don’t have context for telling her not to worry about the executive’s response to the failing systems since they’re obviously not making it a priority. The latter may be true, but it doesn’t mean that she still isn’t getting in trouble for not having the data they asked for when they asked for it. You just don’t know what her work relationship is like with these people.

    1. Joseph*

      Exactly. Personally, the way I read this was that Sally is just as frustrated as OP about the toolset, but knows there’s nothing she can do for whatever reason. So OP continuing to bring this up (and repeatedly providing the same fruitless advice) just emphasizes the situation and frustrates Sally further. frustrates her further. Especially since these reports don’t even appear to be related to OP – so there’s an aspect of the “mind your own business” playing into this as well.

      1. Lance*

        That, and by bringing up (and focusing on, no less, from the sound of things) the stress… it’s just going to make the stress worse. Please, for your co-worker’s sake, don’t focus anything on it; just focus on the work and the training, and being amiable, and maybe you can help dull some of that stress that way (again, by not bringing it up).

        1. Myrin*

          It’s like how I might not be upset or grumpy at all but as soon as someone comes along all “Don’t be so angry!”, I can guarantee you that while I wasn’t annoyed before, I sure as hell am now.

            1. SJ*

              One of my dearest and kindest friends told me to “calm down” one night when I was getting frustrated driving and trying to navigate Center City Philly traffic on a Saturday night, and it took all my strength not to unload on her.

              1. Anony*

                I have pulled over and told backseat drivers to take over or shut up. Funny how most of them never wanted to take over.

                I hate driving, but where I live I can’t get away from it.

                1. Lady Bug*

                  I’ve gotten out of the car in the middle of traffic. You’re gonna be a jerk about my driving, I’m not going to even pull over, so that me and everyone behind us all hate you.

                2. Marisol*

                  Plus nagging the driver is unsafe. Where I live there is a lot of traffic congestion and I can’t focus if the passenger is bugging me.

              2. TootsNYC*

                Yeah, there are ways to give people that message, or to verbally help them calm down, but flat-out telling them what they should feel is enraging.

                1. Marisol*

                  I think something like, “you seem really upset right now, and I would feel the same way if I were in your place” is best. Validate instead of invalidate–the latter is truly enraging. “Cheer up! Look on the bright side! Calm down…” all rage-inducing.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Me either. Unless it’s someone shushing me. I once gasped during an exciting moment in a movie and someone shushed me. It wasn’t even a loud gasp and other people were flat out talking. Dude, if you want absolute silence, wait for the DVD and watch it in your soundproofed home theater.

              By the way, this was a person who came to the theater seemingly after days of not having a bath. :P

            3. AnonAnalyst*

              Ugh, my SO does this, although he’s much better about it since I told him how much it bothers me. But he used to say it any time I started getting frustrated with anything, which only served to enrage me. Which would prompt him to say it again (and the cycle repeats itself…)

              We’re working on it.

          1. michelenyc*

            Nothing annoys me more! I had a friend say me to once wow you sure are grumpy when I was actually in a really good mood boy did that change after that comments. Sorry sometimes even when I am in a good mood I am not always smiling!

            1. BWooster*

              For me, “don’t stress!” follows close behind “Stop being so defensive!” as a phrase that will take me from calm to “Imma gonna kill you!” the quickest.

      2. Grapey*

        I can see both sides of the situation. I run a certain software tool that requires annoying unideal workarounds because management hasn’t prioritized fixing something. If I then have to train someone on how to do my process, them asking why it’s done in said unideal way shows that they put thought into what they’ve been told. (Which we find a good trait to have.)

        Over time I’ve learned to head off the “why don’t we” and “what if” questions by prepending statements with “Although it isn’t ideal” and similar. In fact I think it’s important for someone that knows a process to justify WHY they do a certain workaround. Too many inefficiencies get passed on when people don’t know what they’re doing and why they do it, and then are expected to train someone new.

      3. Jamey*

        Seriously, I could tell from the way the OP worded the letter to Allison that they had crossed the line with Sally. Telling her to report it to the higher ups is obnoxious (because I’m sure she’s already thought of that) and telling her that if they don’t fix it she shouldn’t be stressed anymore is doubly obnoxious (because that’s not how being stressed works). When I’m having anxiety, the last thing I want is someone presenting advice I’ve already tried or thought of like it’s the most obvious thing to do. It’s condescending, it’s not helpful and it doesn’t make me feel better – it just makes me think less of that person.

        1. Op1*

          The report and the executive situation is well known throughout the company. I was trying to be helpful when I said it during a particular conversation in which she elaborated on why the report was late. I think it was our friendly conversation before that threw me off guard that comments like these are not helpful for Sally. I did not mean to come across as telling her how to do her job. I thought we were friendly enough to exchange a conversation like this. I was apparently very mistaken and will have to act differently

          1. TootsNYC*

            Even if you are friendly, and even when you clearly mean well, avoid trying to tell people what their feelings should be.

            W/ my boss, I try to stick to saying what *I* feel about her, or about the situation (“I’m so frustrated on your behalf,” or “I admire how you keep plugging away”).

            I hope you can find the verbal pattern that provides collegial support for Sally!

            1. Employee #427*

              This is so, so important. As someone with an anxiety disorder, I experience the extreme end of this – I am 100% aware that I should not be anxious, logically speaking – but the disorder makes it difficult to “calm down” or de-stress, even when there is no obvious stressor I can point to. Obviously, this is something I work on, through therapy, yoga, diet, etc. etc. etc. – but there are still days when the anxiety is overwhelming no matter what I do. Being told that I simply shouldn’t be anxious feels incredibly invalidating of what I have to struggle with every day – like I can just shut it off magically. Believe me, if I could stop, I would!

              Your coworker may or may not have issues regarding anxiety or mood regulation, but either way, her feelings are hers, and regardless of your intent, by telling her she shouldn’t feel how she does, you are inherently passing a judgment that her feelings are illogical and unreasonable. Even in the situation where that’s true, it is generally perceived as upsetting – and it may not be true! She may have completely legitimate reasons for her emotions that she has not shared with you! Please keep that in mind, and understand that, paradoxically, the best way to alleviate her grumpiness is not to tell her to stop feeling how she does, but to empathize with her as best as you can, as TootsNYC suggested.

              1. Chaordic One.*

                Sally is already stressed out and anxious, and then, on top of the system breaking down, she might get a phone call from a branch office asking for extra information that she had not expected to provide for a week or so, because there’s an emergency at the branch or some such nonsense. The stress level is amped up over 110%.

                Poor Sally sounds like she is burning out.

          2. Kyrielle*

            Some (lots) of people in my experience, me included, do not want advice in areas they already understand well. Getting it from someone they are training would make it worse. Being told the obvious – but not useful – approach when I’m already aware of it is not helpful. I would get annoyed at my _husband_ if he did this, so I do not think it is about how friendly you two are, necessarily.

          3. Jessie*

            OP, I think you are misunderstanding the problem. It’s not about whether you two were friendly or not – I’m sure you were! The problem is that it seems you have been telling someone not to stress. It wouldn’t matter if you were best friends in the whole entire world: for a person who is feeling stressed, hearing any version of “don’t stress out so much, it’s no big deal” is infuriating for lots of people. And telling her just to escalate to the boss reads, to me, as quite condescending – I assume Sally is competent and therefore has considered the pros and cons of escalating, and perhaps already has.

            The way you wrote your post, you seem to be telling Sally how she should feel, and that’s not ok. By all means, ask her questions, but do so without minimizing her stress or telling her not to. It isn’t your job to calm her down or fix her feelings, so back away from that aspect of your conversations.

          4. Shazbot*

            Well, be aware that what came through in your letter was 1) that you essentially told Sally how to think and feel about X aspect of her job, which does not affect you because she is on the hook for any fallout, not you; and 2) you come off as expecting Sally to emote (or not emote) a certain way because it displeases you.

            If that’s what you actually said in real life, you owe her an apology and a heaping helping of backing the F off.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      Yes, I don’t know how the OP can assume that just because the problem isn’t Sally’s fault, Sally shouldn’t worry about any backlash once she’s told them there are problems. Hopefully Sally isn’t being blamed for the tools, but that’s certainly not a given.

      1. JessaB*

        Yeh there are tonnes of bosses who are willing to throw the Sallys of the world under the bus rather than admit the tools are garbage.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Or who know the tools are garbage, but expect the Sallys to deal with that so it doesn’t impact the bosses, anyway.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, this was my immediate thought. We have kind of a similar situation here where our reporting tools are pretty lackluster and it’s well-known throughout the organization, but that doesn’t stop people from losing their sh*t every time any little thing doesn’t look right and blaming it all on us (the reporting team) before we even have a chance to figure out what’s going on.

        I’d guess that Sally is shouldering a lot of blame for things that aren’t her fault and that’s stressing her out. I can see that from your perspective, you feel like you’re trying to commiserate with her or offer her another perspective that might reduce her stress, but that kind of “you’ve done all you can, it is what it is” attitude can be really grating when you don’t actually have the luxury of telling other people “it’s not my fault and if you won’t fix the core problems, I can’t fix the end results”.

        Ultimately, most of this isn’t really about you, it’s just that you’re giving her yet another reminder about how much her situation sucks and how little control she has over it. I would just assume that you’re not going to have any kind of new take on the situation that Sally hasn’t already thought of a hundred times and realize that trying to bring up those approaches really just rubs it in.

      3. AnonAnalyst*

        Yeah, this was where I was confused. In an ideal world, Sally wouldn’t be getting the blame for issues from the system, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way in reality.

        Even if the executive team is totally understanding and doesn’t blame Sally for any of the shortcomings of the tools’ output, there could be business needs that require them to have that data faster than Sally can easily provide it with the current systems. If they need the data at the beginning of every month to make key planning decisions, they need the data. Sally may end up scrambling to get it to them within the required timeframe at the end of each reporting period because of the issues with the system which would be stressful for a lot of people.

        I’d also add that just because the company is still using the same tools to get the work done, it doesn’t mean the executive team hasn’t made resolving those issues a priority. Depending on what’s in place, it could be a huge undertaking to upgrade the current system(s) and the process could take years. But the work still needs to be done in the meantime so everyone just needs to make do with the current tools and their resulting frustrations.

    3. CeeCee*

      I agree. Especially with what you say regarding “Since you haven’t been performing these duties before, you don’t have context for telling her not to worry about the executive’s response to the failing systems since they’re obviously not making it a priority.”

      Frankly, I find the OP’s behavior to be insulting to the co-worker for this very reason. OP, please trust that the person training you knows what they are doing — that they know what is worth stressing about and what isn’t. As the person above said, the report might break regularly and it might seem like the executive’s aren’t in a rush to fix it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still expect co-worker to have it correct and fixed when they need it.

      In that case, you probably aren’t making her more stressed by pointing out that she’s stressed. You might more be making her angry that you seem to not trust that she knows how to do the job she’s training you to do. My advice to trainees, whenever I have to train someone new, is always this: Let me show you the tasks, teach you the expected end results, and show you how I do them. I’m not asking you to change how I do them, just learn how to get them done and you can do them however you want once the task is yours.

    4. Purest Green*

      Yes! OP, I know you’re trying to be helpful, but it’s difficult enough to train someone. Then when the trainee calls you out for being stressed and essentially pokes holes in your process, that takes it a whole different level.

    5. Clewgarnet*

      I’m currently in Sally’s position, and my version of OP#1 is driving me up the wall! Everything he suggests has already been considered, and he just won’t hear me saying, “No.” I haven’t got to the point of standing up and walking off yet but it’s getting close.

      1. Op1*

        I am trying to pair this with other advice given below of writing down suggestions prior to just spouting them off (this way you, as the trainer, wouldn’t have as many questions). However, when you say ‘No’ do you just say ‘No’ or explain it was considered and why it wasn’t acted upon? Or is this a situation where you don’t actually have an answer (for some other reason, it’s outside your role, etc.) and you honestly respond ‘No’ and it’s impossible for further comment? I also hope you don’t reach a point to berate your trainee (loudly) and walk away in the middle of training (as is what happened to me) and that maybe your trainee and I can make better strides in our communication styles.

        1. LQ*

          From my perspective of someone with tools that aren’t always the greatest. I am the absolute expert compared to anyone in my org who is going to come to me on this. You have to earn the right to question me and expect a detailed 3 hour answer. Sorry my time (and quite likely yours) is worth enough that I’m not going to sit down and tell you from step one why I made the choices I did and why we can’t change the things we cant change. And sometimes the answer is “I don’t know. Ask Microsoft!” and I’m frustrated that I can’t do the thing, and I really don’t have a good answer.

          And yes, this goes for the people I’m training on the process. When you are ready for the complexities and answer and details? I’ll give them to you. But if you are just learning? Trust the person training you to give you the information you need.

          It is important to be aware that there might be 500 confounding factors on why something doesn’t work or 1 and both can take a long long ass time to explain. And that might not be what your boss wants you or Sally to be doing with your time, and that is important to be aware of.

          When you go online to buy something on amazon and you have to UGH call because something broke is it better to get them to fix it, or give you a 5 hour tutorial on ssl?

          1. Op1*

            I will agree that ‘Ask Microsoft’ is an appropriate answer and an answer that I accept. While I do understand that diving into more depth on a process may not be beneficial of time, I do not find acceptable behavior to belittle someone and go into the intricacies of the job/task/decision so much so that the trainee is more confused at the beginning (not saying that you do this – just relating to my most recent experience with Sally). Maybe this is the reverse of what I’ve been doing to Sally! However, I guess sometimes when I ask these questions, it helps me find value in Sally’s job role and how important she views her tasks (which she has every right to do).

            1. Clewgarnet*

              This sounds like you don’t find Sally’s job role valuable and don’t consider her tasks important.

              If this is coming across in your attitude/questions (and with, “Don’t be stressed; the executives obviously don’t think you’re a priority,” it probably is) it could explain some of Sally’s responses.

        2. Koko*

          Coincidentally, I just onboarded a new employee a couple of months ago and taught her how to use a very flawed, quirky piece of software.

          I tried to strike a balance between wasting our time explaining so much it confused her and not explaining enough for her to grasp it. Generally it would be something like, “Now, this is really dumb, but when you pin the tail on the chocolate elephant, you have to walk around the elephant in a circle 3 times. We shouldn’t have to, and it’s ridiculous, but when we don’t, the elephant software doesn’t recognize the tail, so, here we are.” So I told her the process and explained that the parts that seem stupid are due to a limitation/quirk of the elephant software, but I didn’t go into any more detail than that. There are like 100 janky workarounds we have for the software and I could spend days explaining the full background of each one in detail during training, or I can just teach the workaround, acknowledge that it is as stupid as it seems, and emphasize it is nonetheless necessary. Once she’s been here a year she’ll know the software in and out and she’ll figure out why we do these workarounds probably on her own.

        3. Clewgarnet*

          The first (what feels like) thousand times, I explained the reasons, and emphasised that I was purely teaching him how to do the job with the toolset available.

          After that, I’ve become increasingly short.

          I want him (and I suspect Sally wants you) to accept that I know the most efficient way of doing my own job with the tools available to me, without constantly taking time to explain to him/you that, yes, I HAVE raised the issue of the teapot lid having to be manually fitted to the teapot body, but upgrading the equipment to do it automatically wouldn’t be cost-effective.

          I’m sure he/you are just trying to help but, when I need him able to click the right buttons as soon as possible, it’s not the time for lengthy discussions.

          Also, speaking as a woman in a technical field, I am very, VERY used to men assuming I’m not as capable as them. Having a new starter come in and constantly suggest I don’t know the best way of doing my own job is extremely aggravating. I have no idea if Sally could be in a similar position to me, but it’s something to be aware of.

    6. TootsNYC*

      I tell her she can only escalate the situation to the executives, and it’s their decision if they want to prioritize fixing the reports. If the executives choose not to prioritize this, then she shouldn’t be stressed out if she communicated her status and anticipated completion due to issues at hand.

      This is like saying to someone who’s upset, “calm down!”

      That doesn’t work–it is just invalidating her feelings.

      I sympathize with her. I’m ambitious–not for more power, or title, or money, but for achievement. I like to do things and say, “There! A job well done!”

      This poor woman can’t ever do that. And she probably is sitting there knowing that SHE has the ability, and all this other stuff is getting in her way.
      She also knows that the higher-ups expects her to just get it done, difficulties or no. They don’t really want to hear any “well, it’s beyond my control, I’m going the best I can.” Also, that’s not the sort of thing to say that makes someone want to promote you or praise you.

      Saying “You shouldn’t be stressed” just makes you come off like a know-it-all. And given that you’re training on her tasks, and don’t have the accountability for it, that’s got to be annoying.

      My boss has an impossible job. There is literally nothing she could do differently in order to change the outcome of what she’s responsible for.
      I focus on praising her efforts in the middle of difficulty, and admiring her
      And affirming my opinion that she is doing the best she can with what she’s got.

      You might be more helpful if you now and then say something sympathetic and admiring: “That must be frustrating–I admire your ability to persevere in this!”
      “How annoying; especially since you’re so good at what you’re doing.”

      Don’t look AT people and try to fix them. Go stand next to them, look AT their problem, and be on their side.

    7. 2 Cents*

      Now is the time to commiserate with Sally, not question her skills, routines, stress levels (and how she’s [not] handling them)! You’ll gain someone who’ll be happy to show you what she’s doing because she knows you agree with her that X way of doing something is not the best, but hey, it’s the lot you guys have. *If* and it’s a very big *if* you come up with a faster / quicker / more accurate way of doing something, you’d need to carefully broach the subject, but I wouldn’t do this for a long, long time.

      1. Op1*

        What is the right balance between commiserating and becoming a ‘Negative Nancy’ in the office so to speak? I think I was trying to walk this fine line by telling her not to stress (again, I know this was the wrong thing to do) than getting ‘sucked’ into a negative situation. I do see some of the other commenters suggested some more positive ways to acknowledge Sally’s remarks and find them helpful as well.

        1. Sue*

          I’m reading down the comments and feel floored that I’m disagreeing with the majority of comments. I get where you all are saying OP1 should not to irk Sally. I think in all work situations, you get the vibe of each person you work with and if you know during a certain time of month a person isn’t friendly, you learn to avoid that person during that time.

          However, I get the impression from the OP1’s post that OP1 is trying to improve on a system and asking questions. Why is that making him/her the bad guy? So you guys are saying there’s no blame to be placed on Sally at all, that she can’t improve as a trainer? I’m not saying OP1 has the right/means to make her change, but the responses here all seem to be chiding OP1 for trying to be a good employee.

          We all work in situations that are less than ideal. I’ve been in OP1’s shoes and it’s no walk in the park. You have to “play nice” and listen to your senior, who is spouting off negativity and refuses to do anything about a process, which means she will continue to kvetch. Vicious, never ending cycle of awfulness.

          OP1, remind yourself Sally’s behaviour has nothing to do with you. And forget making any suggestions if you know they won’t be heard. If I were you, avoid interacting with Sally wherever possible. Don’t get sucked into her negativity.

  2. Wehaf*

    LW1 – if there is one extremely stressful week per month for your coworker, could you agree with her to skip training during that week? “Sally, it seems like the week that reports are due is very work-intensive and stressful for you. Would make sense for us to take a break from training then so you can focus on the reports?” Unless she is training you on exporting these reports, of course.

    1. Jeanne*

      It sounds like LW needs to learn the task. I don’t think she can skip working with Sally those days.

    2. Ellie H.*

      I think it’s really inappropriate to mention her seeming stressed out at all – I would be annoyed if someone said I seemed stressed out or seemed to want to make decisions or plans based on his or her evaluation of my mood! I think a better way to phrase this, if you must, would be to ask her whether she thinks the reports are so time-intensive that it would make more sense to not train during the same time she’s working on them. But how long is this training going to go on anyway? It can’t be THAT long. “Something tells me she does not like me questioning her toolset, stress level, and work style while she is training me on her admin tasks” really jumped out at me, most reasonable people wouldn’t like this at all.

      1. Brownie Queen*

        I agree. If LW1 was someone I was training and instead of learing the tasks she spent more time questioning my toolset, work style and especially my stress level, I would get pissed off too. Unless LW1 can offer a solution for the reports that keep breaking, she needs to keep her pie hole shut.

          1. Construction Safety*

            Hmm, I don’t know OP is used to criticizing & asks to confront. Maybe there’s some attitude going on there.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              OP may genuinely think she was being helpful. She’s not, but there’s no need to be rude to her about it, either.

              1. anonderella*

                woah.. that’s where I’m coming from, Fortitude.. a lot of these comments are really reactory and personal, and not trying to assume the best in OP, which is what we normally try to do. I know I stepped on a few toes whence a newbie, and one of the worst parts of that is not knowing you’re doing it; that can be so frustrating to bear the anxieties of coworkers without even being able to relate to their struggle. I read a lot of, ‘I’m just trying to help my coworker be less stressed out; trying to have she and I work together and collaborate on fixing this issue (evidenced to me by OP offering advice); and trying to, overall, solve the issue.’ Those aren’t the worst of intentions; I’m not getting the attitude shown on this one.

                I agree that what OP has done may have been grating on her coworker, but I am honestly surprised that more of the comments aren’t along those lines, but more along telling OP pseudo-creative/clever ways of telling OP how to be quieter at work – which isn’t even helpful.

        1. J.B.*

          It depends very much on how the stress is coming out, and how the response is phrased. I work with folks who take their stress out on everyone around them. It’s appropriate for a peer to point out the consequences on those around them, and that stressed person needs to knock off making everyone else’s lives bad. The helpful tips are clearly not so helpful and should stop.

          1. Security SemiPro*

            This.

            The point where I get to comment on your stress coping skills is when you are starting to hurt people around you. If I can help with the cause of the stress, I’d love to, but if its just the job (and specific tools that aren’t going anywhere any time soon are often part of the job) then it is up to the staff to figure out how to handle the world gracefully.

            If the stress grumbles are directed at the printer that always breaks and not the coworker standing next to it, just ignore it and move on with doing the work.

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          Umm…I learn by asking questions. Seriously. I have to understand how all the little pieces connect to form the whole or I will never learn what I’m doing. And if I see someone doing something that isn’t the same way I would have intuitively done it, then I’m going to ask why. Not because I think they are “wrong” but because I need to know what will happen if I do it a different way. I look for all the pitfalls so I know exactly how to navigate and get it done as correctly and efficiently as possible. I have definitely rubbed people the wrong way when they thought I was questioning their process, but now that I’m aware of how it looks to some people I’m proactive in explaining upfront that I need the details to understand how to not go wrong.

          I don’t know if that’s part of what the OP is doing or not, but it’s definitely how my brain operates.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            I work the same way, which is why I have some sympathy for OP. It’s how you ask questions, though, that determines whether you’re going from naturally curious to annoying.

          2. JessaB*

            But since you’re aware of your needs why not tell them exactly what you wrote here. Explain before questioning what your personal process is so that they don’t take it wrong.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              That’s what she says she does.

              I have definitely rubbed people the wrong way when they thought I was questioning their process, but now that I’m aware of how it looks to some people I’m proactive in explaining upfront that I need the details to understand how to not go wrong.

          3. LBK*

            I don’t think this really applies to the kinds of things OP is saying. Telling Sally that she should just not be stressed out because if the system doesn’t work there’s nothing she can do about isn’t asking questions about the process, it’s asserting an overly simplified answer to an issue that’s a lot more complex and probably a lot more frustrating for Sally than the OP has the experience or depth of understanding to fully appreciate.

            1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

              My comment was really more in response to the comment above If LW1 was someone I was training and instead of learing the tasks she spent more time questioning my toolset, work style and especially my stress level, I would get pissed off too.

              I’ve worked with people who just get angry the second they are asked any questions, as if the only reason you ask them to clarify their process is that you think they are doing something wrong and not that you (me) are trying to learn the process.

    3. Jessesgirl72*

      I wondered the same thing. Especially since the LW has already trained during this week over more than one month.

      1. Op1*

        I would say that I shouldn’t question Sally’s stress levels and agree on that. However, she does happen to snap at everyone at certain points of the week (including our boss in the open work space) which I just assumed was due to stress. Like I stated before we were very friendly up until the last few weeks. Now any question from anyone receives a harsh reply. I don’t know if this behavior is appropriate to discuss at all with Sally or with our boss, or if I should let it go. She’s now constantly disengaged at our team meetings and I don’t want to be the cause of it.

        1. Judy*

          With this information, I’d like to remind you of the quote:

          “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

          Maybe someone she loves is battling an illness. Maybe she’s about to lose her house. Maybe she’s not sleeping because her kid is sick. There are so many things this could be, and 99.9% of them are not you or the system. This seems larger than the system issues you’ve mentioned.

          Just be kind.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Or maybe she’s just do “done” with this job and a “eating crackers” state w/ everyone around her. The respectful thing to do in that situation is to pretend she isn’t.

            Often we try to be kind by trying to give verbal comfort or support to someone, or to “fix” them. That really doesn’t work; it backfires.
            I find that I get better results if I allow people to manage their own negative feelings without my interference or comment.
            If it gets really bad, I will speak about how it affects me. But the causes of their emotional state, and the state of their emotions, is really not my problem. Their tone of voice to me is.

        2. J.B.*

          The behavior and the snapping is definitely something to discuss with Sally. That is not an ok way for her to treat others. I don’t think you can make suggestions of how to solve it, but maybe she would have ideas of ways that the two of you could interact to tone things down.

        3. Nanani*

          Sounds very inappropriate and frankly unprofessional.
          You aren’t Sally’s parents and you aren’t in charge of her “behaviour” in any way.
          Let it go, and stop assuming things.

          1. Nanani*

            ETA, the inappropriate and unprofessional one is OP, not Sally.
            I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have nothing work-safe to say to a peer or trainee who wanted to discuss my “behaviour” like a scolding parent.

            1. J.B.*

              I have often had the conversation with a person who snaps when stressed “you’re obviously stressed right now and this conversation is not productive. Would there be a better time?” I have occasionally desired to have a global conversation with this person “When you get stressed you take it out on everyone else. I am not your punching bag.” Although when a superiors behavior is tolerated like this, just keeping the mouth shut is easier.

              IMVHO, snapping at others in the workplace because you are having a bad day is indeed unprofessional.

              Disengagement and the cause for the stress is not OPs problem to solve. Snapping at her is. People should be able to keep it together in the workplace.

              1. Ellie H.*

                In general I feel that you should ignore behavior like this from colleagues unless it truly escalates and is a pattern longer than a few weeks and is seriously affecting you not just in terms of mood but in terms of productivity. Like I think it’s generally better to keep your mouth shut, not just when a superior. Obviously snapping at others at work is incredibly unprofessional too (more so) but I don’t think calling it out helps the issue until it becomes un-deal-with-able.

            2. Gaara*

              Snapping at people at work is inappropriate and unprofessional. OP isn’t her supervisor, so it isn’t her job to address this, but I don’t think it’s fair to lay all the blame on the OP, here.

              1. Lissa*

                Agree. I know that for me, working with someone (especially if I’m supposed to be learning from them) who is in a really obvious bad mood is super anxiety provoking and awful. I feel like everything I do/say is making the problem worse! whether or not it has to do with me, it feels like it is directed at me when I’m the one getting snapped at.

              2. PlainJane*

                I agree. I get why invalidating someone’s emotions isn’t cool, but it also isn’t cool to vent your emotions to your co-workers. As someone on here said on a thread some months ago (how’s that for specific?), when someone is over-emotional at work, I have to cope with their emotions in addition to my own.

            3. TootsNYC*

              Oh, I think it’s not fair to label our OP “inappropriate and unprofessional.”

              That’s kind of mean, and it’s clear that the OP means Sally well.

              But I do think it would be inappropriate and unprofessional for our OP to step in and speak to Sally about her snapping at the office in general, etc.
              That’s Sally’s boss’s job.

              If the OP finds that Sally’s snapping is really affecting her (the OP), she can speak to Sally about tone of voice (saying, “please don’t snap at me; that’s actually upsetting”), or she can go to Sally’s boss to say, “Sally’s snapping at people, and I’m finding it really upsetting. Is there a way to get her to stop? I feel awkward confronting her.”

            4. Jessesgirl72*

              I would say there is room for improvement with both the OP and Sally.

              But if Sally is also snapping at the boss, the boss is well aware of the situation. Sally has already indicated that she doesn’t want to discuss it with the OP. The OP can ask Sally to speak to her more civilly, but anything beyond that wouldn’t be a good idea.

        4. Anony*

          >She’s now constantly disengaged at our team meetings and I don’t want to be the cause of it.

          Not your issue to manage. You can manage your side of interactions with her (and you’ve received a lot of good advice on how to do that). I think it’s kind of you to want her reengaged at team meetings, but that’s on her and/or her boss to solve.

          1. Dot Warner*

            Exactly.

            Also, OP1, chances are you’re NOT the cause of Sally’s disengagement at team meetings. She’s disengaged because she’s stressed out and frustrated with the company. As someone else pointed out, she might have issues at home in addition to the dysfunction at work. She might even be looking for a new job. Regardless, Sally’s disengagement is not something you can (or should) fix.

    4. J.B.*

      Also, this might be a good place for the reverse of the “get off of my foot” people have posted in comments before. Why Sally is stressed is up to her. Toning it down is the get off of my foot part.

      1. Marina*

        Sally can feel all the frustration she feels, but she doesn’t have to let her emotions dictate her actions.

  3. Fortitude Jones*

    #5 – When I worked at a for-profit school as an admissions rep, our director was fired due to our campus’s low enrollment numbers. It was sudden and unexpected, so because of this, our corporate office had the assistant director fill in until they decided to hire someone for the role permanently. Now, assistant director wanted this job for the pay bump and had a lot of good qualities going for her; however, she wasn’t good with data and reports, which was a big part of the job, and she always had nervous breakdowns whenever corporate would send reports back to her for correction (she’d be in tears in her office at least twice a week).

    From my understanding, they had her doing the director’s job for months without a significant pay increase (not surprisingly as our enrollment was really low, so it wasn’t like we had ample money to spare), and then when they hired a new director a couple of weeks before I was let go, they shuffled her back off to her old office without so much as a thank you. She was extremely bitter about the whole thing because, as acting director, her workload doubled and she wasn’t compensated for it. Even more, she wasn’t made aware they were even hiring someone else until they called her up and said, “Oh, new director will be there on Monday. Be ready to show him the ropes.” She was under the impression she had the job, but they were just coaching her up through the rough parts of the position (which was probably wishful thinking on her part). It was ugly for a while after that.

    1. Caity*

      That happened to my partner, as well. Supervisor left, he filled in without added pay for a few months, new hire arrives and not only did no one thank my partner, but the new supervisor immediately laid off my partner and the other person at his level! He loved that job at the time and now feels really conflicted and, yeah, bitter, about how that happened, and that no one higher up stepped in to at least say thanks for helping in a tough spot.

    2. New Bee*

      This happened to someone I know about 6 months ago, except it was an ED position, and there wasn’t a clear reason (from a staff perspective) why she didn’t get it. In this case, she was under the impression she was transitioning into the role until they basically told her she wasn’t. On top of that, the conversation happened before they found a replacement; she quit and now they have two top positions open.

    3. Graciosa*

      I think the lack of compensation – or in the example Caity mentioned, basic expressions of gratitude – is not good, but I do disagree with Alison’s comment about temporary pay bumps as a standard. This may be common in smaller companies, but it was not the norm at any of the large employers I worked at.

      For these large employers, the typical compensation was a one time bonus at the end of the assignment in an “interim” or “acting” role. The systems are just not set up to easily promote someone to another role and then demote them back again – a one-time bonus is much easier to process.

      At my current employer, I’ve noticed a few times when someone was placed in an interim role and there was a conspicuous attempt to make it clear that it was strictly temporary and the individual was not a candidate for the permanent role. These tended to be fairly significant jobs where there was actually an organizational announcement for the temporary role, and it was probably a good way to avoid unnecessary awkwardness when a different person was finally selected for the permanent job. This practice, however, is one that I’ve only seen in quite this way at my current employer (unlike the one-time bonus practice, which has been the standard at all of the large companies I worked for).

      I will add that even without a clear announcement, insiders usually knew whether or not the person in the interim or acting role was a candidate for the permanent one, but you can’t expect an external candidate to know this. External candidates should treat this like any other job search – meaning someone else can always beat you out for the position, and there’s no point in worrying about it.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I once worked for a large corporation where once you were given a pay raise, even if you were given a huge demotion later, no matter the cause, company policy stated the person would continue to be paid at the higher level.

        Even aside from that, it’s my experience, as well, that companies are reluctant to raise the compensation on a temporary basis.

        There are so many possible variables at play- including that the interim may be willing to do the job short-term, but doesn’t even want the job permanently- that you are right, and all a person can do is try their best and not worry about everything else at play.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          I once worked for a large corporation where once you were given a pay raise, even if you were given a huge demotion later, no matter the cause, company policy stated the person would continue to be paid at the higher level.

          This is how my current company operates (and they even sometimes let you keep your title if you’ve been demoted).

        2. Chaordic One.*

          I’ve only heard of similar situations in jobs where they had union representation (federal, state, county and city jobs).

      2. Mike C.*

        I disagree with this assessment – it’s quite common here for temporary managers to make manager pay because they’re doing everything a manager already does. It’s only fair.

        1. LBK*

          I think it depends heavily on what the person will actually be doing – as Alison says, a lot of times an interim manager isn’t “doing everything a manager already does”. In most places they do the minimum necessary to keep the department running until a permanent replacement can be hired (eg approving time-off requests and standing in for the manager in meetings). Interim managers aren’t usually given authority to hire/fire, give raises, implement PIPs, conduct annual reviews, etc. While they may handle all of a manager’s day-to-day tasks, they aren’t held responsible for steering the department from a big-picture perspective the way a permanent manager would.

          1. MillersSpring*

            Agreed. Also, an interim manager might not be expected to handle strategy, budgets or other long-term planning, just day-to-day tasks.

    4. Pwyll*

      Just for alternative stories, I’ve seen interim positions work out just fine as well. In one, a Member of the Board of the non-profit resigned and stepped into the role as Interim Executive Director for 6 months at half the salary of the old ED. During the announcement it was made clear that this was temporary and he was not being considered for the permanent role, and his role was to just keep things moving along as he didn’t have all the skills necessary. They hired a great person who transitioned in, and the Board member was reelected to the Board after. I remember they debated giving the board member a bonus, but the board decided against it (I imagine because they didn’t want to declare that they paid a Board Member on their 990.)

      I’ve also seen this work in government where they basically just reassigned someone to the job with the title, with no salary change, and told them to hold onto the place until someone else was hired. Then they returned to their old role once the new person was hired. If I remember correctly, she didn’t feel all that raw about the way it was handled, even though she didn’t get a pay bump. But I think at a certain level this type of thing is just common in government.

    5. Anja*

      I was in an acting (what we call interim) role for a few months earlier this year when my boss (who is usually in the position) was acting in the position above him. When we have someone acting it’s usually because there hasn’t been time to do the hiring process, someone is on a temp leave that we aren’t sure if it will become permanent (once they leave permanently the position is posted), or because appropriate candidates haven’t yet been found.

      It turned out that during the hiring process my boss didn’t get the position he was acting in once it was posted – they hired from outside – so he came back to his role and I went back down to mine. But if he would have gotten that position they would’ve posted the position I was acting in – but I wouldn’t have wanted it permanently. It was a pay bump – which I received while acting – but it’s not something I’d want to do long term. The work didn’t interest me and the stress level wasn’t worth the additional money for me. I was willing to cover for a few months as the team needed someone in the position and I was best qualified. But had it come available and gotten posted – I wouldn’t have applied.

      So sometimes the position is already basically promised to somebody, sometimes the person acting wants the rule and it could end up awkward, and sometimes the person acting really doesn’t want to be doing that job and will be happy to see you so you can take the work off their plate.

    6. OP5*

      Thanks, all, for the additional input! I know that from the outside it’s pretty much impossible to tell exactly what’s going on (and will otherwise treat this exactly as any other interview), but since I’ve never experienced the “interim” thing directly, it’s nice to hear what others’ experiences have been. Not least to give me an idea of potential pitfalls if I do end up working there.

  4. corporate anon*

    #4 – If you told me that story in an interview, I would definitely not hire you. Not only does it come off as causing drama, but the dig about native versus foreign language is almost as bad as someone using an inappropriate term about a group they don’t belong to.

    Use your a. and b. options to answer that question. I don’t think most a lot of people expect workplace conflict to be a huge thing, but want to hear about you and a colleague disagreeing over how to handle a project and how you worked through that. Or a colleague not getting you materials in a timely manner and how you dealt with it.

    1. Jeanne*

      I think this is a bad idea for an example also. It isn’t about doing the work and it’s actually not about resolving any conflict or coming up with alternative solutions. You dropped it after no one cared. I’m sure you have other stuff about coworkers who made the work harder or information that you couldn’t get or something.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, I think this is what matters here a lot more than whether the email was offensive or how OP should have handled that situation. It would be more helpful to talk about a conflict related to work that shows how you might problem solve, discuss, or compromise to get to a good solution for the company, clients, etc. Even if the email-sender had apologized for his language after the reply-all, I don’t think it would be a very good example to reference in an interview.

    2. OP4*

      Hi, thanks for the response! To clarify, it wasn’t intended as a dig at her level of language at all. This conversation, like all conversations I had at this workplace, took place in a different language. I don’t really know whether she was amazing or terrible at English. It was annoyance at being lectured on not knowing what the word meant in context. Like you were Head of Teapots and Teapot Intern started telling you you didn’t understand a basic concept. Yes, a bigger person would have let it go, but I really felt upset and piled-on at the time.

      1. Daisy*

        Since you’re here OP, maybe you can give us an example of the situations you thought were too bland? People could let you know if they’re suitable.

      2. Mookie*

        Sounds like a situation ripe for this particular kind of misunderstanding / conflict* — and I’m sorry about how rough the whole thing felt and that you didn’t get even the perfunctory pleasure of a real resolution or mediation — but depending on what your industry is and in what country the position is you’re seeking, the larger experience (as an Anglophone navigating a bi- or multi-lingual company) might yield otherwise more fruitful and less divisive material for a cover letter or interview.

        *I think Ellie H and Myrin, below, are correct that it’s hard to parse and replicate identical tone across multiple languages and it’s always difficult, at least initially upon attaining fluency, to determine the appropriate diction for the appropriate context. This is also the case for intra-language dialects and varieties, of course (cf where C You Next Tuesday is normalized and considerably less coarse in some but not all varieties of English).

        1. Mookie*

          (It always yielded a lot of mischievous fun to translate, in school, some of the bawdier Latin, for example, into a contemporary American idiom without losing direct reference to masturbatory techniques, farting, unwieldy penises, what folk get up to at crossroads, what entertainment can be yielded by interfering with people’s skulls using what body parts, why your posho boy squad is going to get what’s coming to them and how, etc.)

      3. Raine*

        I agree with Alison NOT to use this example — for all of the reasons stated (drama, not having to do with assigned work) and especially the fact that it’s an example of conflict that wasn’t handled well! Default to an example of how you resolved conflict if possible.

    3. Ellie H.*

      Yeah, that wasn’t a dig about foreign vs. native language. “I don’t need help understanding my own native language” isn’t a non-antagonistic thing to say but it doesn’t strike me as discriminatory or offensive as you characterize it. The story is way too much drama to bring up in ANY workplace context, honestly, though.

      FWIW I do think that it’s a thing, that non-native English speakers sometimes use more profane English than is appropriate for the context. I see it on FB sometimes, I have a decent number of non-native English FB friends. I think it would have been more appropriate for the “time for tea, bitches” poster to be mortified about inadvertently sending something offensive in a non-native language . . . I would have been. I think it often takes near-native fluency to have the best sense of when “edgy” language is harmless and when it might offend someone. Anyway, I HATE those old fashioned greeting card memes. Hate.

      1. OP4*

        Oh totally, I was like (in my head), you’re sending that and *I’m* the one who supposedly has no sense of humour?

        1. Jesmlet*

          I think it’s not so much no sense of humor vs sense of humor, more so that it’s just different senses of humor. If someone in my office sent that out, I’d think it was funny and I’m female (I’m assuming that’s why you thought it was offensive). In this context it’s not derogatory so it’s really about knowing what’s appropriate in the office and it actually seems pretty clear that they had a better sense of that than you did since no one else objected to it.

          1. neverjaunty*

            “Other ____ don’t mind that insult directed at _____ so you’re not allowed to be offended” really needs to be put to rest.

            1. HannahS*

              Yeah. Whenever I hear someone say, ”Well, *I’m* an xyz and *I* don’t care,” in resoonse to me being upset I always wonder what’s supposed to come next. Do we fight a duel to see whose feelings are more legitimate?

            2. Jesmlet*

              I never said she had no right to be offended, but to make this a sense of humor issue just doesn’t make any sense to me. There are plenty of blondes who are offended by dumb blonde jokes and there are plenty who laugh and think they’re funny. Doesn’t mean they’re not offensive but if we’re going to adjust our behavior based on the opinion of one person then we’ve got a lot of work to do.

              1. HannahS*

                But the assumption that no one else was offended because no one else said anything isn’t correct or fair. We see on this site all the time that people don’t speak up in situations when they’re profoundly uncomfortable.

            3. Kate*

              Well, the opposite is true too. I have heard “I am blank” or “I was blank so therefore I know better than you about this issue or thing and even if it is totally ridiculous, off the wall and provably inaccurate, my opinion is the only legitimate one.” way too often.

              Both statements need to be taken with a grain of salt.

              For example, not everyone is offended by the message OP mentioned. And while someone who has had a particular experience shouldn’t be ignored, their words shouldn’t be treated as gospel either, not even on that particular subject they have experience in.

        2. Narise*

          We had a controller that thought it was funny to come into the room and say what’s going on in here bitches or sons of bitches if it was mostly men. Many thought it ridiculous but no one stopped him.

          One day the controller brought his wife in to introduce and one of the women who always thought it was so funny walked in the room and said oh do we have a new bitch starting today? The look on his face was priceless and he never walked into her room asking that again.

      2. Myrin*

        Related to your second paragraph, I know a Canadian guy who lives in Korea and works there as a teacher. And he said recently that students will be scolded by their teachers for saying the Korean equivalent of “Darn it!” – so, very mild language of frustration – but then sometimes one of them will blurt out an English “FUCK!” and no one reacts at all because the teachers don’t have any relation to that word or English profanity and its scaling in general. I found that very interesting and fascinating.

        1. Bwmn*

          I think when you’re talking about that kind of cultural context and what something means somewhere else – that kind of stuff can get really fuzzy really fast.

          When working overseas, I went to a human rights day parade where one group of marchers – to make their point about a local concern, was dressed up in their approximation of KKK hoods. For the point they were trying to make, it made sense – and it’s not like this was a Mardi Gras parade or other celebratory occasion – but as an American it was jarring to see.

          Ultimately, this was a local parade for local organizations – and while there were definitely Americans there – whether or not specific American sensitivities should be accounted for…..I think you’d get different responses. All of this to say, I think it’s a bad example to bring up because you are just as likely to find an interviewer that thinks “well, if the job is in X-non English speaking country, and the term means Y there….then OP #4 may not be as flexible in international environments as I want.” Not saying that’s true or not, but it opens the door for that.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          I know a Canadian guy teaching English to kindergartners in Korea, and he’s had to tell parents that the t-shirt with English words on it they sent their 5 yr old wearing says something really vulgar or inappropriate.

      3. BobcatBrah*

        I dont disagree. I have (nothing but) Latin American coworkers who regularly use very vulgar English (not really a big deal to me) like its nothing. I used a Spanish swear once though and they looked at me like I had just murdered a puppy.

        I think OP4 basically blew up over nothing to nonnatives over their use of English in a context that isn’t offensive to them.

        1. Purest Green*

          I agree this is not an interview-appropriate story, but I don’t agree it was “over nothing.” It’s an offensive word to many people – it doesn’t matter if it’s not offensive to the speaker.

          1. BobcatBrah*

            Context matters, though. If this situation had happened in an English speaking country, it’d be a different story. That it happened in a non-English European country changes it a bit. Our offensive words wouldn’t necessarily be offensive there, especially considering that the pop culture we export uses it in a completely different manner than how it’s used in the Anglosphere.

            1. Bwmn*

              This right here is why I think it’s a bad story – issues of escalation aside, I think there’s no solid way to determine how an interviewer will react to this situation.

              Between action movies and a lot of music (especially rap) – there are lots of non-Americans who take a lot of their language cues utterly devoid of the American English context. And different people will just react differently, which I think in an interview is not a gamble I’d want to take.

        2. Ellie H.*

          Yeah I agree, as you and others have described it’s easy for profanity, terminology, or just sort of cultural tropes in general that are not in your native language/culture, to not REGISTER as offensive because you don’t have the same instinctual reaction to it that you do when you are raised in that language and culture. It does raise a kind of interesting point. It sounds like the majority language and the location of the workplace is in a country where English isn’t official language but a lot of people speak it pretty well. If English profanity doesn’t read “offensive” in society for the reasons I described above, is it warranted to call it out or is it not really great to do because it is out of tone with the workplace culture? I think this can be analogous to a similar situation posters have written about, working at an employer with a culture where coarse language is part of the office environment, and what happens when someone is uncomfortable with that. It’s not exactly the same but interesting point of comparison. These are a couple previous AAM posts about culture clashes that could be applicable:

          https://www.askamanager.org/2011/05/swearing-in-the-workplace.html
          https://www.askamanager.org/2014/09/im-frustrated-by-my-offices-constant-nerf-gun-battles.html

          I feel like I remember some post that I can’t find, from a woman who wanted to work at a startup-y place but felt alienated by the male-dominated culture including language used (that was different from the Nerf gun letter) but maybe I am imagining it or conflating different aspects of letters.

          1. KG, Ph.D.*

            “I feel like I remember some post that I can’t find, from a woman who wanted to work at a startup-y place but felt alienated by the male-dominated culture including language used (that was different from the Nerf gun letter) but maybe I am imagining it or conflating different aspects of letters.”

            I think you might have the scenario flipped — I believe there was a letter from some dudes who ran a startup and wanted to communicate to prospective hires that their workplace could be a crude (IIRC, there were some weird sexist undertones to it). Naturally, I can’t find that one to give you a link, you…

            1. KG, Ph.D.*

              Uh, not sure why that last sentence has “you” appended to it…I blame a lack of caffeine.

    4. JB (not in Houston)*

      It didn’t sound like a dig at someone not being a native speaker. If someone who is a non-native speaker of your language tries to explain to you why their using a word that is offensive in your language isn’t actually offensive, it’s not a dig at their language skills to point out that you don’t need them to explain that you, as a native speaker, don’t need that word explained to you. It’s not saying “you can’t possibly understand this word’s meaning,” it’s more, “this is my native language so don’t tell me I don’t understand what that word means.” Or at least, that’s how I read it.

    5. Jessie*

      This whole thread here shows why it should just not be used at work, ever, period. This thread runs the gamut from “it’s a completely fine word, it isn’t offensive to me or anyone I know” to “this word is deeply offensive and hostile to women.”

      That means it is a loaded word, and loaded words should simply not be used at work. At all. And certainly not in a company-wide blast email. You can’t use “but it was just for light-hearted fun!” when you are using a loaded word. Save words like that for use with friend groups you know are fine with it. Keep it away from work.

      But as for advice, I think a “reply all” could work: maybe an acknowledgement that the culture/language here might be different but as a native English speaker the word rubs you wrong even in humorous contexts so you’d appreciate if folks could stay away from it (saying “hey, I get that this was funny and you meant nothing by it, just a quirk about English for English speakers, I’d appreciate the favor of not using it” makes it about you, not about the sender, and so probably wouldn’t put them in defensive mode). And I’d stick with more work-related conflict for interview questions.

      1. Purest Green*

        This whole thread here shows why it should just not be used at work, ever, period. This thread runs the gamut from “it’s a completely fine word, it isn’t offensive to me or anyone I know” to “this word is deeply offensive and hostile to women.”

        That means it is a loaded word, and loaded words should simply not be used at work. At all. And certainly not in a company-wide blast email.

        Yes! I wholly agree.

  5. Little nonny mouse*

    For #4, besides Alison’s advice I’m not clear what lesson was learned. You say that you could have not confronted him publicly but that he should have been. So…what lesson was learned?

    1. Marcela*

      Probably that the coworker and the girlfriend were double jerks? I’ve been in the same spot, when somebody corrects me my native language (think about the two different variants for juice: zumo in Spain and jugo in -at least- South America, being told that my native jugo is not correct Spanish. W.T.H) and I. Can. Not. Help. Seeing. Red.

      Having said that, a couple of months ago I had a super serious fight with one of my dear friends over the pictures she sent me via Whatsapp. Memes of ugly people or people with physical defects. When I asked her to stop, not believing she could laugh at them in my presence, because did she forget how badly I was bullied in school because a physical defect?, she went nuclear. She claimed she would never laugh at anybody, and how could I believe she could even think of that. Except that yeah, she did. The moral of the story is that people won’t react kindly when being called out. So the choices are starting a fight or ignoring the stuff. I truly hope someday I’ll be a better person and I won’t start fights, but hey, at least I can do now that while working.

      1. Mander*

        I get this to a lesser extent as an American living in England. Any time someone “corrects” me for pronouncing things differently or using a different word I usually ignore them but it definitely inspires contempt for them. Surely their precious, delicate little English ears can handle me calling the thing at the back of the car a “trunk”, right? I don’t kick up a fuss when I hear it called a “boot”.

        Fortunately it doesn’t happen that often, and usually when it does it’s someone whose opinion I don’t care about anyway.

        And ugh to your second story. That’s just horrible.

        1. Lil Lamb*

          That’s so condescending. They know what you mean as soon as you say it, unless they are trying to be playful it’s just plain obnoxious. I worked abroad for a while, and my coworkers actually loved my New York accent and occasional slang word. Part of the exchange is accepting that people think and say things differently than you and behaviors that are acceptable in one culture are not acceptable in another.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I’ve never had that happen there unless I grossly mispronounce something, and then I want people to correct me. Or if someone doesn’t understand what I’m saying because I use an unfamiliar word, such as trunk, they say, “Sorry?” I then correct it to boot so they know what I’m talking about.

          It does sometimes lead to fun discussions about differences in American English vs. British English. And I’ve found most people to enjoy that. But anyone who does it contemptuously is just being rude.

        3. seejay*

          I hate saying it but the number of times I still get poked at for words I say in the US (I’m from north of the border) still grates at me.

          Just this weekend, I had two people get confused and lost when I said “there’s a parcel in the lobby for you”. *Usually* I catch myself on words that confuse people, but while parcel sometimes gets picked up on, I’ve never had anyone actually not understand what I was trying to convey. Not Saturday though. Two people had no idea what I was talking about when I said “parcel in the lobby” and I was in a rush so I thought they just couldn’t hear me when they said “a what??” “in the lobby, a parcel, you have a parcel in the lobby”.

          “A PACKAGE?”

          “….. yes, you have a package in the lobby from the mailman, what the hell people. I DON’T HAVE THAT THICK OF AN ACCENT.”

        4. Marisol*

          That correcting thing seems ridiculously provincial. Although, I confess I did it to an Aussie friend once. We were having dinner, and she looked at her salad and said, “oh, I forgot to tell them to hold the sultanas” and I was like, “hold the WHAT??” I had no idea that a raisin could go by any other name and for some reason, that really tickled me. I think maybe because the last time I ate raisins on a regular basis was as a small child during snacktime at preschool, so I went to a juvenile place: “that is a fucking RAISIN!!! What is WRONG WITH YOU???” I was just kidding around though. Usually I’m a lot more cosmopolitan.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            Heh, sultanas are actually different to raisins. They’re paler and slightly sweeter/milder: I just looked it up and they’re both made with white-fleshed grapes, so maybe it’s a processing thing.

    2. OP4*

      Good point! I am conflicted about it (hence asking Alison how I should have handled). I really thought the first email was clear and to the point and a reasonable person would have said “gosh, I didn’t realise it could be seen as such a strong word in English, sorry about that”, and I would have been perfectly fine with that. Where I think I should have shut my mouth was continuing to argue the point afterwards. I genuinely find it an offensive term and it kind of blew my mind that no-one, from management down, acknowledged that. I did get some support privately, but no-one was brave enough to say anything publicly, so I just got a huge pile-on from the boyfriend and girlfriend and their clique about not getting it and not having a sense of humour.

      Anyway, seems consensus is stay away from the subject entirely :)

      1. ginger ale for all*

        I think it escalated because of the reply all. Jmo, I think that there would not have been such a blow up if you had followed the adage of correcting in private, praise in public. Next time, just do a private reply to the sender and you will probably get a better outcome.

        1. ginger ale for all*

          Also, you said that management never said anything about the original language. They may very well have done that in private with the original sender. Good management will not broadcast when they have spoken to an employee about bad behavior. You never know what goes on behind the scenes.

        2. Amber*

          I agree, the original sender was in the wrong for sending it but OP4 was in the wrong for using reply-all to complain about it, doing that so publicly is incredibly embarrassing and will immediately put the person on the defensive (the opposite effect you’re trying to get).

      2. FiveWheels*

        It’s not just an issue of native language. I’m British and “bitch” isn’t considered offensive by any of my social groups. In context it can be used offensively but the word itself is not.

        I have a lot of European friends who are fluent in English and they’d find it bizarre for anative English speaker to try to correct something like this.

        I’m not saying the guy’s behaviour was acceptable. It looks like he dismissed your concern out of hand, which was wrong. But likewise, you didn’t seem willing to consider that in context the word may have been appropriate – and assumed you had amore valid opinion on word choice, because English is your native language.

        1. EleanoraUK*

          Maybe this is in fact a British thing, cause the original message didn’t strike me as particularly offensive either, so I’m struggling to understand the Reply All chastising.

          1. Nicole J.*

            I’m British as well, and I would’ve frowned at the message – I do think it’s inappropriate at work given that bitch is a loaded term – but agree, Reply All probably isn’t the best way of handling things.

            1. JaneB*

              I’m British and I find that phrase really offensive – and totally work inapproptiate (I’ll try & overlook it when people with different dialects use it in social contexts but it makes me flinch inside)

          2. Hannah*

            I’m American and it’s not offensive. It’s not really professional, but it sounds like the office had a fun tradition of sending different, unique messages every day, so it wasn’t necessarily intended to be professional.

            1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

              British, and seconding this. Would it go down well in all offices? No. Would it probably go down well in mine? Yes. Especially if adorable kittens were involved.

            2. Sarah in Boston*

              And I’m American (Boston area) and not only do I find it offensive, I’m trying to break myself of using it at all. (Along of the lines of “that job is a real b*tch”.) So clearly YMMV for both sides of the Atlantic.

        2. lychee*

          And I think if it was the Breaking Bad time then, it could be referring to that. Not at all offensive per se

          1. Kiryn*

            I have a pretty hard time reading a phrase ending in “bitch” nowadays without hearing it in my mind in Aaron Paul’s voice. I wouldn’t find it at all offensive in that context, but I have no way of knowing if that’s what the original guy had in mind when he emailed that.

        3. Marisol*

          I am American, and find the use of the word “bitches” to be unacceptable in a work context. In addition to the common-language divide between Brits and Yanks, I think age might be a factor. I am 43 and I get the impression that people in their 30’s are less offended by the term.

          Regarding a native speaker having more authority on the subject of their language than a non-native: I majored in linguistics in college, and it was considered an inviolate rule that a native speaker’s opinion was to be trusted over the non-native’s. This was over 20 years ago, but I doubt the ethos has changed. I think the OP’s assumption (if that really was her assumption–it sounded to me like she resented the lecture from the girlfriend more than anything) was correct.

          1. Jwal*

            I’m a Brit and I’d say that it’s not an office-appropriate word regardless of whether or not it’s offensive.

            There are definitely insults that are harsher depending on which side of the pond one is on – such as the C word, which I understand is not as commonly thrown around in the US as it is here. Even though it’s not a horribly offensive word here, it’s sill not professional to use at work. I think this is similar, even if the word is more toned down!

            1. FiveWheels*

              Yeah, there’s a difference between :

              Words not suitable for work (work culture dependent)
              Words which are offensive – eg racial or homophobic slurs
              And
              Words which offend an individual, but are not generally offensive to the culture

              1. IowaGirl*

                Wait, both “bitch” and the C word are gender-based slurs. Why are those not in the same category as racial and homophobic slurs?

                1. Myrin*

                  I’d say they technically are in the same category but have been so normalised or, maybe more correctly, overused that many people don’t view them like that anymore. Additionally, “bitch” specifically is often used in a friendly or “fun” manner – just like in the meme in the OP, actually! – which homophobic or racial generally aren’t, which further blurs the lines. (To complicate this even more, I’d say “bitch” is undoubtedly in the same category as homophobic etc. slurs when actually used in a derogatory way which didn’t actually happen in the OP, though.)

                2. Natalie*

                  @ Myrin, it’s also worth noting that some racial and homophobic slurs are used in a similar friendly manner, but that happens within the respective communities, not in a mixed-group work environment and definitely not between a community member and someone from outside. (N***** probably being the most well known example, and interestingly not universally accepted within the black community in the same way a lighthearted “bitch” isn’t universally accepted among women.)

                3. Myrin*

                  @Natalie, I was thinking of this as well but wasn’t sure how to incorporate that in my comment without making it even more of a parentheses-and-brackets fest, so I decided to just say “generally” and leave it at that.^^

                4. FiveWheels*

                  IowaGirl, because in my experience, most of the time “bitch” and “c**t” are used add gender neutral terms of endearment, and then gender-neutral insults, and gender-specific insults only in a tertiary level.

                  Also, more fundamentally, my experience is that when used as an insult, “bitch” means “woman I dislike” and is roughly equivalent to “bastard” or “d***head”. Racial and homophobic insults carry avery different connotation, namely “I dislike you BECAUSE of your identity.”

                  When used as an insult, “cow” is, in my opinion, far closer to insulting woman on the basis that being awoman is itself an insult.

              2. FiveWheels*

                Anondarella, the main thing I was trying to convey is that whether words are suitable for workplaces is dependent on the individual workplace, and that someone can be offended by a word without it being offensive per se.

                If someone is offended by aword that is, in context, not widely considered to be offensive they can certainly ask others not to use it. While it could certainly be rude to continue using the word when asked not to, I don’t think there should be an expectation that it won’t be used.

          2. FiveWheels*

            My degree is in linguistics as well. The key point with English especially is that the subtleties of dialects can be significant. The speaker is EFL but American English is not the same as British English or what I’ll call, for the sake of argument, European English.

            This is especially true with swearing. The “c word” is pretty much taboo in the USA, but here in the UK it’s impolite more than anything else.

            In British English, in general, swearing is not considered “bad” – swearing at someone as an insult is adifferent matter. I gather that in the USA far more words are considered unacceptable of themselves. That’s why speaking one dialect doesn’t give someone the right to dictate the meaning of another dialect.

            1. Marisol*

              I was making a distinction between native and non-native speakers, and would of course put Americans and the British into the same “native-speaker” category. Could a non-native who is well schooled in British English speak with greater authority on the language than an American, assuming both are in England? I guess it is possible, but it still seems unlikely to me. Do your European friends dream in English? Make love, speak to babies and dogs in English? Count or do math in English? Or do they revert to their mother tongue in those situations. It seems to me that it would depend on the degree of fluency ultimately. You bring up an interesting point.

              1. FiveWheels*

                Yes, my ESL friends do dream in English, at least when it’s about English language topics – eg American movies, or friends they use English with.

                It’s a skill that is completely beyond me!

          3. EleanoraUK*

            Regarding a native speaker’s opinion over that of a non-native speaker – perhaps this holds some truth where the language is spoken in its original context.

            Where it is used as a lingua franca in a country where it is not the native tongue, like in the OP’s case, I’d argue that the local linguistic conventions and norms play as large a part, and that’s where the OP’s comment about not needing lecturing on her own language strikes me as off-key.

            She doesn’t need educating about using her mother tongue in her native setting, but she’s being told that in the local culture, the remark wasn’t offensive. That has as much linguistics value as the Oxford Dictionary or any native speaker’s interpretation. Languages aren’t a static thing owned by a particular group, they’re ever-changing and without an official authority, as this instance so clearly illustrates.

          4. Rachel in Minneapolis*

            I *hate* the word bitch. I hate it in popular songs, movies, Breaking Bad, and in all contexts where it refers to women. I don’t hate it in the dog breeding world. Other than that it’s extremely offensive to me. I see it as a dig against womanhood.

            Fyi I am a young-ish American. Many friends do use the word and I never correct them. In a business situation, I might talk privately with the message sender.

          5. Ellie H.*

            I’m 29, American and while I don’t find the word sexist (nor the c-word – I can appreciate the well-timed profanity but try not to overuse such expressions) I really don’t want to hear it at work and I think sending memes that include profanity is crass. There seems to be a divide among people who don’t find the word “bitch” offensively profane, people who find it profane, and people who find it offensive specifically because it’s sexist. Even though I don’t fall into this last group I don’t think it’s too much to just say, forget it at work.

            1. FiveWheels*

              I find the use of the word “profane” really rinteresting. To me, it implies something extremely taboo, inherently wrong, and blasphemous. Something That will contaminate and harm that which it touches.

              Sometimes the ways we talk about “bad language” are more interesting than the bad language itself. America in general seems to be less tolerant of bad language than the UK. In the UK we call it swearing – a morally neutral term which implies emphasis. In the US it tends to be cursing – a morally loaded term.

              1. Marisol*

                Speaking as an American, I think America is less tolerant of a lot of things. The Puritan sensibility endures.

              2. Ellie H.*

                I think there are 2 registers of the word profane . . . 1st in phrases such as “the sacred and the profane” (meaning as you describe it in your comment) and 2nd as I was just using it to stand in for the adjectival form of “profanity.” I don’t really think the word “bitch” is taboo, inherently wrong, blasphemous. It’s just one of the words that are considered profanities in standard USA English, that’s how I meant it. I don’t think there is any one specific word that regardless of context is inherently blasphemous and taboo but I’m sure others differ.

                Americans are definitely more “Puritanical” (of course, LOL), more religious and more socially conservative than W. Europeans, in general (this is averaging Americans together as a huge mass, obviously we are wildly disparate amongst ourselves).

          6. Chinook*

            “I majored in linguistics in college, and it was considered an inviolate rule that a native speaker’s opinion was to be trusted over the non-native’s. This was over 20 years ago, but I doubt the ethos has changed.”

            But what about those speaking two conflicting dialects of the same language? I am thinking the British/American divide, but we also have the Newfie/Mainland Canadian English divide here. And while I would never have an issue with being called “maid” in conversation (or DH being called “boy”) like MIL does while we are chatting, I could see that causing major offense in a completely different situation if they other English speaker didn’t realize that those are completely polite ways to refer to someone back home.

            1. Marisol*

              I think I was just failing to take all those variables into account. I actually majored in “applied” linguistics, studying Spanish, French, and linguistics, but not getting the entirety of any discipline–it was a lazy way to learn two languages and not have to double major. I can’t remember where I read that but it may have had more to do with making sure the students acquiring a language were not arrogant about their learning. I did not ever learn about the subtleties of dialect that FiveWheels mentions. And indeed, at that time it might not have been widely discussed, as folks were not as global as they are now.

              1. FiveWheels*

                In the UK there could well be more of an emphasis on dialect than the USA, as the UK’s four constituent countries have different varieties of English.

            2. Talvi*

              This is even further complicated when you get into the whole “circles of English” stuff, too. Why should my Inner Circle English (e.g. British, American, Canadian, etc.) be considered any more valid than someone’s English from the Outer Circle (e.g. Singapore, India, Nigeria) or Expanding Circle (e.g. China, Russia, Brazil)?

        4. babblemouth aka One Of The Greatest Minds Of The 21st Century*

          My native-English colleagues are the ones who made me consider “bitch” might not be the worst thing in the world actually. As a non-native speaker, I always thought it was a really bad word, tis I heard some colleagues call each other that – in a sassy kind of way. They explained to me that in some contexts, it was actually perfectly fine. This has been taking place in two very different companies…

          It might be a workplace culture thing, and maybe the colleague who sent there email used work in a workplace where that was an OK thing to say. I’m suspecting this has more to do with culture than native language.

        5. TL -*

          Bitch isn’t offensive in most (but not all) of my friend groups – American here – and the context that it was used in the email would be perfectly okay for my friends.

          But for work? I would argue that’s it’s not professionally appropriate (there are offices where it’s okay but it’s still not really professional) and if someone is not okay with it, it shouldn’t be used. Just because it’s okay with your friends doesn’t mean it should be okay in your workplace.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            +100. In a social setting, I’d laugh at the meme, but at work? I’d be cringing. You just don’t send something like that in most workplaces.

          2. Lissa*

            Yes, I love the word bitch (it’s in two of my favourite phrases, bitch eating crackers and bitchy resting face…yes I know some people hate those, and to those people I am sorry!) but I would never use it at work in any context!

      3. AD*

        The question above was referring to if there was any lesson learned by you in this situation, to justify even mentioning this an an interview context. There wasn’t, and all this story does is put you at the center of drama.
        Move on, and don’t use this story

      4. JMegan*

        I actually disagree with Alison and the majority, and I think you could use a version of this story in a sort of “lesson learned” format. Because from your question, and from your participation in the comment thread, it seems pretty clear that you have learned from the experience!

        Don’t get into the whole story with the girlfriend and the clique and whatnot, as that’s too much detail and too much drama. The version of the story you want to tell is this:

        I was the only native English speaker working there (this was in Europe). Every day someone on the top floor would send around an email that there was tea/coffee ready in the top floor breakroom and the ground floor team could come up if they wanted. People would find “funny” ways to avoid sending the same boring message every day. One day one of the upstairs group, a man, sent a message with one of those “old-fashioned greeting card” memes saying something like “time for tea, bitches!” I replied-all with something fairly neutral but clear, like “please don’t use that word, I find it offensive and it’s not appropriate for the workplace.

        Then skip the rest of the detail, and just say that the guy was angry and embarrassed about being called out publicly like that. And you have given it a lot of thought and you now understand why he felt that way. And your takeaway is that maybe this wasn’t the hill to die on, but if you do decide to raise something like that in the future, that you will do it in a gentler and more private fashion.

        It might be a better answer to a question about a mistake you’ve made at work, rather than a question about handling conflict. But as long as you have learned from it and have changed your behaviour, I do think there’s a way of using it in an interview if need be.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          If you could use it to explain to me why you’ll NEVER send a reply-all email again, I might be tempted to hire you.

        2. Marisol*

          I like this! But…is it ever ok to use the word “bitch” in a job interview? Genuinely asking. It seems to me like that in itself might disqualify the story.

  6. Jeanne*

    #3, You sound very generous. It’s hard to know how the gesture will be received. How well do you know your coworker? Do you think she’ll feel helped or insulted? Does she need help getting services like Medicaid or Food Stamps? It’s great if you can help. Just be aware pride often gets in the way.

    1. NJ Anon*

      I’ve been in a similar situation as the financially struggling person. One day we found a gift card to the local supermarket in our mail box. I never found out who it was but I was mortified and thankful at the same time. I doubt the coworker is going to believe the “I have a gift card to a store I don’t shop at” story. But it may give her an out.

      1. Sophie Winston*

        Maybe you could ask her to use it to pick up things for lunches you could share? So you’re providing the gift card and she’s providing the errand running hassle?

      2. KellyK*

        If you have an idea where she lives and she knows where you live, specifically picking a store in her neighborhood that isn’t in yours might make it more plausible. She probably won’t believe it, but it really just needs to be a sufficiently plausible polite fiction to minimize embarrassment.

      3. many bells down*

        I was also in this situation, and one morning I found a little bag on my front doorknob with several gift cards in it. I am 99% sure I know who it was, but it’s been 15 years and he’s never confessed to it. I suppose you could always go with “Oh, a gift card, how nice” and then change the subject. That’s what mine did!

    2. Central Perk Regular*

      I have an older friend who is on a fixed income who I frequently buy grocery gift cards anonymously for. I always mail them to her and disguise any writing on the envelope, card, etc. OP #3, is there any way you could find out your coworker’s mailing address or PO Box and send it to them anonymously?

      1. anonderella*

        Please don’t do this (though I say this with the caveat that if it’s working for you and your friend, I think that’s incredibly thoughtful of you, in this situation) – for me personally, this would be entirely too invasive. It would leave me feeling so sick if I was trying hard to hide my financial troubles from people, and suddenly feel as though it could be anyone who could see them, *and* find my house for more unexpected “gifts” (not even necessarily someone I work with… like a creepy neighbor, or friend/relative that you’ve asked not to overstep boundaries, etc).

        +1 for the white lie approach.

        1. anonderella*

          I say this from the perspective of someone who considers herself a very private person, and who has been the recipient of unwanted attentions before.

          1. Central Perk Regular*

            I don’t know if this matters or not, but this person is a really close friend of mine and I’ve been providing free financial counseling to them for years (I actually work as a volunteer financial coach and teach classes), so I’m very aware of their struggles. I wouldn’t do this for someone that hadn’t shared that information with me. I’m a very private person as well, so I completely respect where you’re coming from.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve been in this situation once when I was at Exjob, and someone anonymously left a $50 Walmart gift card on my chair one day. I have no idea to this day who did it, and no one would own up to it. It definitely helped. Just throwing that out there.

    4. mccoma*

      Here’s a trick that will allow some saving of face. If you have a membership to one of those stores that does bulk products (e.g. Sam’s Club or Costco), get an additional membership for your coworker (Sam’s Club calls it a gift of membership) and a gift card from the place. Give to coworker with the story that you just renewed your membership and got a additional membership with a gift card for that membership. Coworker might buy it or not, but it will allow some saving of face and often cut the cost of their groceries for a year.

    5. calonkat*

      #3, you might see if your coworker would be willing to accept unopened products from cleaning out your pantry. It’s a good thing to do before Thanksgiving (if you’re in the USA), and I know we generally find we have bought a few duplicates, or products we used to use (from when we had teenagers at home or before the low sodium lifestyle.)

      I’ve been the person on the receiving end, and have been very grateful for “we have too much venison/pork/beef stored to use this year”. Nowadays I find myself rejoicing every time I don’t have to buy the cheapest version of EVERYTHING just to make ends meet.

  7. Loose Seal*

    #2 — If you have trouble staying quiet after your answer, count to 7 slowly in your head. I’ve found that if I do that, the other person will start talking to fill up the silence by the time I reach 5. Plus, the counting gives me something to “do” to keep my focus. If I don’t count, I start second-guessing how long the silence has been and will quickly lose the focus of the question while having a fierce inner debate trying to convince myself to stop rambling.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      I’m going to try this the next time I interview. I too ramble when nervous no matter how many times I practice beforehand, so this is worth a shot.

      1. Mabel*

        I use this when I teach. I ask “what questions do you have?” and then I count to 10. I almost always get a question at 9.

        1. the gold digger*

          I was told – before I performed a comedy skit onstage – that I needed to wait four seconds for people to get the joke and laugh, which was really hard for me because I want to keep talking! I have a script! I am supposed to say these things!

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            LMAO! That was a problem for me in comedic plays as well. Eventually, I learned how to pause and wait for the laughs, but it’s still something I struggle with in non-performance situations.

  8. Cat steals keyboard*

    #1 The problem is that you’re telling her how to feel. It’s fine to firmly discourage her from stressing at you, eg “I hear that you’re frustrated but let’s focus on x.” But telling her how to feel is not helping – try to remember that people aren’t always rational in how they feel and react. And she’s been dealing with this frustration for ages while you took it on five minutes ago. I know you mean well but time to follow your own advice: accept you can’t change this situation and stop stressing about her being stressed.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yup. Telling people how to feel generally never ends well. It’s minimizing behavior and, coming from someone you don’t know that well, incredibly rude (and it would even be rude coming from someone you do know, but at least then you’d have context for that person’s behavior to know they may mean well).

    2. Op1*

      Thanks! In my past department it was a good thing to challenge requirements and the toolset. I understand how this can be misconstrued and I have apologized to Sally when she pointed out she had no control on the tools and would appreciate it if I could understand it’s limitations. In the other department this was never deemed acceptable and in my new department it is.

    3. CM*

      I think that even “I hear that you’re frustrated but let’s focus on x” is not appropriate from someone in OP #1’s position, where they are being trained. If they were supervising Sally, that would be fine. But in this situation I think all the interactions with Sally should be along the lines of, “Please help me to learn what you know” and “Thank you for teaching me,” without any comment about how Sally might be feeling or whether she’s doing her job well.

      1. Emlen*

        Agreed. From anyone but a supervisor, I’d feel the speaker was being patronizing with such a remark. It would not improve my attitude.

        1. heat lightning*

          Likewise. I wouldn’t like it from a supervisor either, but from a peer or someone junior to me it would sound really condescending and it would really piss me off.

          I think you should focus on how her behavior actually affects you. Her stress levels are hers to manage and not your business to advise her on — but it’s not ok for her to handle them by snapping and snarling at you, and you can ask her to speak to you civilly.

  9. IngridInbox*

    #3 – OP, I think it’s incredibly nice and generous of you to help your coworker out! I like Alison’s idea and I don’t know if the anonymous gift card is a good idea. Even though she’d probably guess it was from you, there’s a possibility she might think it’s was from someone else and that word has spread about her situation. If she’s proud, she might be really embarassed and paranoid about people talking behind her back.

    1. Engineer Woman*

      Don’t do the anonymous gift card! While she would probably guess it was from you, there’s always a possibility it is from someone else, which means others in the office are aware of what she might feel is an embarrassing situation. The white lie Alison suggested is a great solution. I wouldn’t have thought of it. That’s why I come to AAM – for Alison’s great ideas.

  10. Boo in Bxl*

    I’m in Europe working in an office with native English speakers and a wide range of other nationalities and quite frankly, that meme could have been sent by either in our office. I wouldn’t personally have sent it, but replying all to explain the term probably made the original sender, who clearly sent it as a lighthearted joke, feel like they had been chastened in front of colleagues. It is also true that the same words have different strengths across languages and in general, we’re much more relaxed about e.g. swearing in Europe. You should have discussed it one-on-one. Your key learning should have been to take cues from the environment you are in when deciding if this was appropriate rather than your personal comfort levels – in my office, totally so (not that I condone all of the language, mind, I have just come to conclude that in some areas I’m more prissy than most of my colleagues)

    1. FiveWheels*

      Agreed absolutely. Different cultures have different standards for what is appropriate. Even within the UK there is wide variety on when and how swearing can be used.

      Given different standards within English, EFL speakers don’t get to decide for ESL speakers what’s right.

      1. the gold digger*

        EFL speakers don’t get to decide for ESL speakers what’s right.

        A way to have approached this situation would be, “Sender, just so you know, in the United States, that word can sometimes be considered offensive and you would probably not want to use it at work.”

        The private, smiling approach of, “You probably didn’t know this very specific information that I happen to know and I don’t want you to embarrass yourself if you are ever in my country” is far more likely to be successful than scolding someone in public.

        Non-native speakers don’t always know what “sounds” right. I am fluent in Spanish, but had to be told that in Mexico, one does not say, “Oye!” to get someone’s attention. I had been yelling “Oye!” quite freely in Chile for two years without challenge and it sounded just fine to me.

        (Despite Mana and “Oye Mi Amor!”)

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          I am fluent in Spanish, but had to be told that in Mexico, one does not say, “Oye!” to get someone’s attention.

          Aw, really? Crap. (Thanks.)

      2. Dankar*

        Exactly! I cringed a bit when OP4 said they’d told their coworker that they knew better because it was their native language. But it’s not your native culture! You’re doing the same thing, telling them what is/is not offensive in a culture that might not see things the same way. Sometimes context is way, way more important in language than the “correct” definition of a word.

        That being said, I think the only “very bad” thing OP did was to use Reply All. That escalated something that should have been a quick, “Hey, just so you know…” into something that involved upper management. That does not seem like good conflict resolution or something you would want to bring up in an interview.

    2. ChocolatePorridge*

      I agree: if the OP had an issue with the language used, the appropriate response would have been to either catch her co-worker alone for a quiet word, or perhaps to e-mail back a private e-mail. Given that the message was clearly sent in a light hearted manner, a curious rather than chastising tone would have been appropriate, something like:

      “Hey *coworker*

      Thanks for letting us know the drinks were ready… I don’t know if you were aware, but sometimes the word ‘b*tch* can be used as a term of abuse and it could make female colleagues such as myself feel uncomfortable at times. I’m not sure if it’s something you’d want to use in the workplace in future, of course I’m not a manager but I wanted to give you the heads up for the future!”

      OP”

      But that’s if you absolutely HAVE to say something, personally I really cannot see the problem in what he sent, nor would I have addressed it… but if you’re going to, a ‘reply all’ telling off ain’t the way to go about it. You put the receiver straight on the defensive and embarrassed him in front of everybody else, I’d be pissed if I were him too.

    3. Jen RO*

      Yeah… I can see someone sending that in my office (Europe, non-native English speakers but with moderate-to-good skills). Management might have a word with them, but another coworker replying-all to scold the original sender would look worse than the actual email.

    4. Jane D'oh!*

      I have worked in casually foul-mouthed environments (construction, etc.) and I was taken aback that this was put into writing (or photo, whatever, since it sounds like she sent a .jpg meme). I’m used to salty language, but no one I know would ever think of actually sending something like that through official channels.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Yeah, most places I’ve worked would find “tea bitches” totally acceptable if spoken or in carefully chosen groups, but not in a company wide email. It would be considered a dumb choice, because it could open up liability issues. There’s a line between “this is okay to do” and “this is UNOFFICIALLY okay but don’t put it in writing”

    5. Jessesgirl72*

      This is what I wondered about, as well.

      The accepted norms in society and office culture vary across the world, and what would be clearly inappropriate in a US office wouldn’t necessarily be at all inappropriate internationally. Working in a foreign office and expecting the same standards as there are in the US was likely the real mistake the OP made. We can debate which way is right and which is wrong, but the reality is there are differences and you need to learn to live within the norms of the culture where you are.

      To be fair to the OP, though, sometimes those differences can be both subtle and shocking, even if you’ve worked or lived in the place for awhile. I can understand her surprise, if something like that had never come up before. So often, you don’t know what you don’t know!

      1. FiveWheels*

        Subtle differences are the most difficult ones, because with an obvious difference, by definition you know the difference is there.

  11. Mookie*

    Also, practice stopping at the end of your answer and staying silent. Many interviewers will wait to see if you’re going to keep talking or not before they resume, and many nervous ramblers get freaked out by the silence and start talking again — so you want to practice not doing that.

    Such good advice in #2 for fellow nervous ramblers. Practice combining brevity with information in a conversational, but professional tone. Don’t sound as if you’re reciting or reading something, and memorize data and useful phrases rather than whole speeches. These are not orations. As a nervous conversationalist, I sometimes forget to listen to my interlocutors–unless you’ve actually been tasked with preparing a monologue, don’t. Plan and prepare for unexpected pauses, interruptions, useful and productive sidelines, and sometimes questions you’d rather not answer.

    Likewise, finishing up one of those 90-second answers with a clarifying remarks, as Alison suggests, is useful to gauge whether you and your interviewer are on the same page. I’m always careful, however, not to repeat a canned line again and again, which can be irritating and seem artificial. Sometimes a simple pause will prompt the interviewer to ask for more information themselves. Again, there’s a tendency amongst us nervous, self-conscious folk to extrapolate from our own feelings of verbal inadequacy (or just a preference for logorrhea) the responsibility to stage-manage a conversation or interview; it isn’t your duty, as the interviewee, to do so, and forcefulness will mostly come across as presumptuousness or a misapprehension of boundaries.

  12. Jwal*

    Telling someone to calm down will never make someone calmer.

    OP1: Even though that’s not what you’re saying when you talk to your colleague, I would bet that the way it’s coming across to her is pretty much the same.

    Questions like “How do I do X?” are fine, I think, but sometimes people use questions as a way to say “I think X is stupid”, and that’s also annoying. I don’t know whether that’s what you’re doing, but it might be worth thinking about whether it’s the questioning itself or the phrasing.

    1. Op1*

      Thanks! I agree because phrasing and tone is very important when communicating effectively. When Sally and I were friendly and chatting earlier I think it lowered my sense of formality when Sally was training me.

  13. Marisol*

    #1 – I have to wonder if your assessment of the report situation isn’t naive, or even arrogant. Often new people come to a situation and make recommendations as though they were the only person to think of that idea, when the reality is the idea has been explored and the people already in the department know why xyz strategy isn’t feasible. For example, while your reasoning about communicating the time constraints to management and then letting it go without stressing is sound, is it possible that there is some political or unhealthy dynamic at play that the coworker can’t escape? It’s not uncommon for management to expect results without truly empowering staff to deliver those results. So this is conjecture on my part of course, but I’m envisioning you telling her, “hey, just do xyz and stop stressing,” and her thinking “what does this woman know? She hasn’t seen/heard/experienced what I have” and feeling resentful.

    At any rate, I find it incredibly annoying when people do this kind of thing to me. Training people is a little stressful to me in the first place, and if I get “helpful” suggestions from someone who doesn’t know the ropes, it’s grating. I think usually, the contributions from the trainee are well-intended–they want to be a good team member and maybe even impress the trainer. But contributions like this do not create value–they create drag.

    One time I set up the office infrastructure of a start up, and the temp receptionist I hired kept making little suggestions; the one I remember was buying paper from…office mart or something, instead of Staples, in order to save money. I had so much to deal with, I couldn’t care less if we wasted twenty bucks a month on paper. What I wanted her to do was sit at her desk and make the labels I told her to make. Not because I couldn’t or wouldn’t optimize paper prices, I just didn’t have the bandwidth for it at that particular time. So instead of helping, temp receptionist was being a PITA. It’s more gratifying to think of solutions, but often obedience and a willingness to perform rote tasks are more valuable in the workplace.

    My point in case I am not being clear (it is very late and I am sleepy) is that there may well be information that you don’t have, which if you knew, would stop you from saying the things you are saying.

    And I could see how mentioning the coworker’s stress level could be seen as condescending. Instead making suggestions for how the coworker should solve the problem of her feelings, why not show empathy? Was there ever a time in your life that you felt a similar kind of stress? Can you share that, or at least listen politely if she mentions that she is feeling stressed?

    If I were in your shoes, I would treat the coworker with great deference during the time she trained me; I would not question her choices or make any suggestions, but rather, I would consider her the expert and learn as much as I could about the process, and only suggest changes when I was sure I had the standing to do so. This kind of attitude, in my opinion, shows maturity and a spirit of teamwork, whereas what you’re doing might be coming across as argumentative or difficult in some way. And it may be that you are as charming as a geisha and your coworker is a complete basket case who is being unreasonable with you, but that would only make my recommendation stronger, since you have to get along with this woman either way.

    Bottom line: I guess I am saying 1) be kinder, and 2) be more humble.

    1. babblemouth aka One Of The Greatest Minds Of The 21st Century*

      Yes, I’ve sometimes had questions along the lines of “why don’t you escalate X?” and the answer is essentially “because I also escalated A, B, C, D and E, and if I escalate much more stuff, I’ll just be seen as the problem person.” Sometimes you have to pick your battles, and someone else might have picked different battles, but until they’re actually IN the position, it’s none of their business.

      However, since LW1 now IS (partly) in the position, maybe they could pick up some of these and escalate/fix? If someone presented it to me this way ” hey, I can see this is complicated, and I think it could be easier if we did that. Would you be interested in me taking the lead on this?” I would be all over that. That being said, LW1 might have burned that bridge already if the coworker seems very annoyed.

      1. Marisol*

        Yeah, that suggestion is weeks or months away now, if ever. You reminded me of another possibility, which is that coworker could feel threatened by the OP. I like your script but it would take some discernment in knowing when to use it!

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Nah, I really don’t think the coworker is threatened based on this letter. Most people would find a newbie questioning their toolset, work style, and stress level (!) incredibly grating during training.

      2. Dot Warner*

        Maybe one of the reasons Sally is so frustrated with OP1 is that she’s tried some of the solutions OP1 has suggested and either they didn’t work or the higher-ups vetoed them. I really don’t think OP1 is in the position to escalate/fix any of these issues right now. After she’s been in her job for awhile and has built up some capital with the bosses, sure, but that will probably take a few months.

        I’m sorry, OP, but I think you need to just keep your head down, do what Sally asks, and stop questioning everything she does. All the issues that you’re pointing out? She knows about them and there’s nothing she can do about them. She’s at the BEC stage with this employer, and some newbie coming in telling her to calm down and suggesting solutions that she knows won’t work is just adding to her stress.

        1. KS girl at heart*

          I agree with this. The OP said Sally has been short with everyone and is more disengaged during meetings. Maybe she is upset that OP is being tasked with helping her and feels it makes her look like she’s not able to get her work done.

    2. Grapey*

      “there may well be information that you don’t have, which if you knew, would stop you from saying the things you are saying.” Well yes, that is the point of training!

      I’ve had to train others, and I find it way more refreshing if they ask questions instead of ‘greatly deferring’ to me. It shows that they put some thought into the process and are engaged instead of just writing down a list of what buttons to press in what order. In fact the only times I’ve been frustrated while training is when I didn’t know the answer to someone’s question – but I just used that frustration to better my knowledge of the process, and certainly never took it out on the person asking.

      1. Marisol*

        Well, questions aren’t the problem per se. You’re right, questions are great. They show someone is engaged, among other things. I meant the OP shouldn’t question the coworker’s choices, as in, implying that the trainee knew more than the trainer. Now that the relationship with the coworker seems to be souring, I don’t know how else she could get back on track except to show her respect and quit pestering. If someone has their mind made up about someone and is wanting to disconnect from a relationship, it’s hard to coax them back in without a big demonstration of good will.

  14. hbc*

    OP1: “Something tells me she does not like me questioning her toolset, stress level, and work style while she is training me on her admin tasks. I am only asking questions though to gain more insight as to why things work the way they do.”

    Her stress level has absolutely nothing to do with your insight into how things are working (though she might say things about the source of her stress that might prompt questions.) The toolset questions should be about available functions, workarounds, and (once) whether there’s any chance of replacing it. Any work style questions should be functional as well.

    So if she starts pulling her hair when a report gums up, you can ask, “What kind of feedback do you get from the bigwigs when this happens?,” but you don’t get to follow up with anything like “See? Not worth stressing about.” Similarly, you can ask “Do I need to do it in A-B-C-D order like you, or is that just a personal preference and I can do C-A-B-D?” But it’s a massive overstep to say “ABCD order is so inefficient, you should really do it CABD way.”

    Even if she was asking for help with workflow and stress management, I don’t think you should be offering those kinds of suggestions. You’re not her manager, and you’re just becoming familiar with these functions. You might be 100% right about everything you’ve said, but you don’t have enough experience to know that you’re right.

    1. Op1*

      Thanks! I like this phrasing a lot when communicating with Sally. I do see the difference in phrasing in your example and will keep it in mind when being trained!

      1. hbc*

        I just want to say that, reading the rest of your comments, you seem remarkably open to direct feedback, even if it borders on the painful. This is awesome (seriously, it’s so much easier to work with people like you), but if you project your receptiveness onto others and give the feedback you’d like to hear, it’ll cause problems.

        I sense that someone could say to you, “You seem stressed. Why don’t you do this report in pieces over the course of the month rather than all in one go? That would really help”–and it would totally go fine. You’d respond, “Nope, not stressed, but thanks!” Or “Yeah, but I can’t for [reasons], but thanks anyway.” Or “Oh, hey, that might help, awesome!” But most people are less resilient to and embracing of that kind of feedback, so you generally have to be more gentle with your questions and feedback than feels necessary.

        1. Ellie H.*

          Same! A lot of people have been kind of critical of your initial approach (including me, above) and your openness to feedback stands out. I think this is a really good attitude and is in keeping with what you describe of your previous workplace environment, which seems quite welcoming of feedback in all contexts.

          1. Myrin*

            I was thinking the same thing! OP, you’re being a very good sport here in the face of some almost harsh criticism!

            1. Op1*

              I’m thinking that if I write a question to Allison and I’m lucky enough for a personal (yet still public) answer, I’ll take it as a win. It seems very possible I struck a cord with some people based on their comments and feedback. But then again isn’t that what the comment section is for?

  15. CM*

    I agree with the comments above on OP #1 — Sally is capable of assessing her own situation and deciding what to do, and your job is just to learn from her. You can make her life easier by just taking tasks off her plate. (This is a lesson I’ve had to learn too — I thought I was being helpful when I offered suggestions, until it occurred to me that I was actually being annoying because the person I was talking to had way more experience and context than I did, and was smart enough to come up with those ideas on their own.)

    For OP #4, a good example will have a “lesson learned” that you will apply in your new job. For an example, an example about how you weren’t sufficiently prepared once, but learned your lesson and were always ultra-prepared after that, or you implemented an idea without a good plan for sustaining it over time, and learned how hard it was to do that after the fact. If you want to tell a story about interpersonal conflict, it should be a story about how you learned to stay calm under pressure, or learned to listen to and respect the views or expertise of others. I think it’s fine for it to either be a situation that really didn’t turn out well, or one that turned out OK in the end. But it needs to have a resolution where you learned a lesson, implemented what you learned, and had a positive outcome the next time the situation happened.

    1. Op1*

      Thanks! I completely feel like I fell into that bucket! I don’t want to further overstep my bounds, do you have advice on how you divvied up the overlapping tasks? I want to let Sally know I’m there to do the tasks if she’s busy on other more important tasks, but not telling her how to spend her time.

      1. CM*

        You can basically say what you just said, something like “I’m happy to help with these tasks if you’re busy on other more important tasks,” or “Would it be helpful for me to take over doing this process?” or “Is this something you think I’m ready to do on my own?” or “Are there any tasks that you would like me to take over?” You can also ask a broader question about what Sally’s plan is for when she’s done training you: does she envision this as divvying up tasks with you, having you as a backup person when she needs help, having you focus on or take over a specific task?

  16. bloo*

    I’ve a suggestion for #2.
    Go get the book Airframe by Michael Crichton. Look for the part where the main character, Casey, is being coached before her filmed news interview. That passage has helped me to give only information that’s asked for and to learn to shut my yap on unnecessary chatter. And to be comfortable with uncomfortable silences. It’s excellent for dealing with malice but also helped me to be less wordy on job interviews.

    1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

      Sorry if unrelated, but I used to read that book on just about every fight I took. Really helps with flying jitters to know just how safe plane travel is.

    2. Product person*

      Ohhh! bloo, I love your creative suggestion to learn how to avoid rambling. Just purchased Critchon’s book in Kindle version :-).

    3. CA Q#2*

      Thanks for the suggestion, I found the book and the section you referenced. I ended up reading through the end of the book to see how it ended!

      Something else I have found that might be helpful. For those who find themselves running on and on during interviews, especially if you have been isolated and out of the workplace for some time, ask yourself whether you have been getting “enough” People time? I think if you are used to talking with people all day everyday, and suddenly you aren’t for an extended time, you can tend to over compensate when the opportunity arises such as with an interview. Talking with people helps you feel connected, if you are connected you are more confident, if you are more confident you are in more control…

  17. Whats In A Name*

    #3: I was in a similar situation with an office mate who was just out of school and ended up with a roommate who walked out on her and left her with rent that was too much for her to handle alone. I used to shop at Costco and would offer her some “extras” now and then and she never caught on to why I was doing it. “Hey, I bought bread this past week at Costco and normally give the extra loaf to my neighbor but they are out of town this week.” (white lie) or “They had such a good deal on pears that I had to buy a box, but realized when I got home they’ll go bad before I can eat them all…interested in the extra?”

  18. Whats In A Name*

    #4: Definitely agree with Alison to NOT use that example, but do you have another smaller scale conflict that has less drama you can refer too? Maybe something that happened twice – once when you handled it poorly and then a later time when you used your experience to handle it better?

  19. bohtie*

    Suggestion for #4 as someone who often has to be That Guy in the workplace (like, a few years back, one of my coworkers kept saying racist things about President Obama and because I have a big mouth and a reputation for not giving a rat’s ass, it sorta fell on me to handle it, with my supervisor’s advice): if this situation comes up again, and I’m sure it will eventually because people are people, and you’re the one left holding the bag in terms of a response, try not to respond in a way that involves your personal feelings (and for the record, I totally agree with your feelings here and I don’t think they’re wrong at ALL).

    “That language is not appropriate for the workplace” is a totally different ballgame from “I find that language offensive,” and while the latter is 100% valid, it gives your (likely v immature and low-blow-seeking) coworker a very personal out and allows them to disavow all responsibility: it’s not that they said anything wrong, it’s that you’re too sensitive and don’t have a sense of humor! It becomes about you instead of about the “joke,” and sets you up for the obnoxious fauxpology like you experienced.

    If you leave “I” out of it, the only way they can respond is by trying to make an argument that it’s totally okay to call people bitches in a professional environment. That puts the onus on them AND it’s a much more difficult task to accomplish.

    (Usual caveat about how I speak only from my own experience and your mileage may vary.)

  20. Caroline*

    OP#3, It’s so nice that you’d like to help. I’d like to offer an alternative to pretending you have extras of stuff/stuff you don’t need. I think that since she’s already shared with you that she is in need of help, it is fine to step up and give a gift card to a grocery store without any false pretenses. I would say “Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time financially now and I really want to help out. At one point in my life, I was in a position of needing help, and now I’d like to pay that forward.” I think this helps limit embarrassment by making her feel she isn’t alone in needing help, and also that it would be “helping” you out in your desire to pay forward a good deed. And then make that be the end of it–she’ll probably say thank you, but just say “you’re welcome” and change the subject immediately to move past any embarrassment or awkwardness.

    1. AnitaJ*

      I really like this suggestion for the OP. I’m going to employ it in the future. Thanks for the idea!

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      I really like this approach, too. Direct, friendly, supportive, sympathetic (empathetic? whichever one means “I’ve been there, too). V generous of you, OP#3.

    3. Lissa*

      I like that, too. It’s honest, kind, and lets her accept or refuse the actual truth. As we’ve seen above, some people would love anonymous donations, others would hate it. Some people would love Alison’s suggestion, others would not. I don’t think there’s a way to do this in a way that will guarantee your coworker will like it, since people are so different, so I’d just be as honest as possible, and accept it if she refuses out of pride.

  21. the.kat*

    OP#3:

    Since it’s getting close to the holidays, can you do some in-office meals/potlucks? Or could you try out some new recipes and bring them in for coworkers? I don’t know if your office does this or if it would be awkward, but it might be a way to help make sure she’s getting a hot lunch without saying, “I brought this because you’re poor and don’t have any money.”

    1. Joseph*

      Don’t call it a potluck, because then co-worker would feel expected to contribute (which she can’t afford to do), refuse to eat (because she didn’t bring anything), and/or feel guilty about the whole thing.
      If you want to do something like this, stick with “trying out new recipes”. I’ve had several occasions where a co-worker has been taking a cooking/baking class and just brought in all their food for the rest of the office to sample.

      1. calonkat*

        My mom (who lives with me) is making a cookbook of family recipes. Most of which haven’t been written down. Our office really is getting all the tries of the cookies/cakes/pies!

  22. Lil Lamb*

    I’m sympathetic toward OP 4. I think that using reply all may have escalated the situation because people don’t like being called out. While I was studying abroad, a colleague called Haitian Creole “dirty French.” As both someone who is both part Haitian and studied Linguistics I tried to calmly tell him that he shouldn’t say that because Creole is its own language and that calling it dirty French is insulting when you consider the country’s colonial history. He got really angry and flustered to the point that me and another friend (also American) were confused about the escalation. I could have easily been angry at him because of my heritage, but I tried to approach it calmly and academically. We concluded that it was probably a cultural thing where people don’t get “called out” for things like that there.

    1. Marisol*

      Going off limited data, but it sounds like he had a shame attack and didn’t know how to handle it.

      1. Lil Lamb*

        I think so too, but I think the extreme reaction was a bit unwarranted. We were working for a global non-profit that actually serves Haiti. I wish he had just listened and said “Wow, I didn’t know that. I won’t say it anymore.”

        1. FiveWheels*

          France tends to be very protective of its language – I wonder if the dislike of creoles comes from that. It’s hard to simultaneously think “French is pure and perfect” and “other versions of French are equally valid.”

          Am interesting data point would be French opinions of Quebecois.

          1. DaisyGrrl*

            Speaking from the Quebecois side, I’ve known several French Canadians who have had…challenging…experiences when travelling in France (including one person who encountered a ticket agent who refused to speak French to him and would only serve him in English). The few French people I have heard from on the issue have not expressed nice sentiments about Canadian French.

            My understanding is that the accent sounds provincial, and there are enough vocabulary and grammatical differences that is it immediately clear which side of the Atlantic a French speaker hails from.

            1. Chinook*

              I have heard Quebecois referred to as “farmer French,” which is technically true as it is based on what was spoken by the pre-French Revolution farmers, trappers, etc who were sort of cut off from the motherland after the revolution.

              The flipside is that those of us on the prairies speak a more Parisian version because a) the nuns who taught the early francophone (like m grandparents) out here usually came from France, not Quebec and b) our modern textbooks focus on Parisienne French and rarely even mention Quebec (don’t get me started). My grandmother was mistaken back in the ’50’s of being from Europe when she had only moved from Northern Alberta and everything I ever learned in school was pretty much useless in modern day Quebec because the idioms they use in day-to-day speech bore no resemblance to what I was taught.

              1. Lil Lamb*

                Hmm, I think this may be part of it. We weren’t in France, but we were in Europe. Maybe he was influenced by French opinions of creoles and dialects. The problem with viewing French as the prestigious language in the case of Haiti is that the language was literally forced upon slaves. Over 200 years since the revolution and people still having orthographic arguments and defending Kreyol as a language in its own right.

  23. Thomas E*

    #4 : I think the best answer to this question is one where the conflict involves other people and you step in to resolve it. I.e. ” I work at a 24 hour shop. While I was working late as a cashier I heard an argument between another cashier and a customer. The customer wanted a refund but it was too much money for the cashier to authorise on his own and the duty manager had gone home. I apologised to the customer and called another store in the chain where a duty manager was present who could authorise the refund. The customer left happy. “

  24. NW Mossy*

    OP #1, I think to some extent what you have is a learning style conflict. People who are into process development/improvement (and I suspect you’re one, given your prior job history and your take thus far) tend to learn as much from trying to suggest improvements and solutions as they do from actually doing the task in front of them. It’s neither right nor wrong; it’s simply a learning style. However, for someone who’s not as into process (and many people aren’t), this type of solving-while-doing is distracting and potentially insubordinate if it’s not handled delicately.

    What might help you get the best of both is to keep your own private list of suggestions and ideas, rather than sharing them with Sally. You can still have a space to capture the ideas and help yourself learn the hows and whys of the process, but not sidetrack Sally with discussions about them. Down the road once you’re pretty proficient and have a better sense of the political landscape, you can pick a couple of things to talk to her about and see if you can get agreement to try them out.

    Another thing to remember is that people have different tolerances for change. You seem to thrive on it, but Sally may be one that prefers her change in smaller doses. She’s already getting used to you as a new person to work with, and that combined with what else is up in her work/home life may be putting her at the limit of what she has capacity to change right now. Again, neither approach is right or wrong, but it’s good to keep in mind that what’s easy and natural for you may be more of a climb for others – being sensitive to that can go a long way in preventing and easing conflict.

    1. CM*

      I do exactly this! I mentioned above that like OP #1, my tendency is also to come up with suggestions and question why things are done a certain way, and at some point I learned that it’s not necessarily helpful or wanted. So, in addition to learning to “shut my pie hole” as helpfully suggested above, I started writing down my ideas. Six months or a year later, I might go back to my list and see if there’s anything worth pursuing. I find that maybe 20% of them are useful insights, and about 80% are not because there is a good reason that things are done the way they are. Even out of the useful part, most of them are just things that are good to be aware of, but are not actually worth changing once I’ve gotten a better understanding of the situation.

  25. BadPlanning*

    Some additional white lie ideas for OP#3. You bought some reduced gift cards for a fund raiser and wanted to make sure they’re used before they expire. You caught a BOGO deal and want to share. You traded in some credit card points that were going to expire and want to give gift card to Coworker as a thank you for help on Big Project.

    These might still seem thin, but maybe enough to save face.

  26. Persephone Mulberry*

    One additional tip for #2: In addition to rehearsing your answers and practicing “stop talking and wait” – also try and be conscious of not letting your answers sound like they trail off midsentence (this is my personal interview bad habit).

    “For the last five years I’ve been a project manager in dark chocolate teapots, but I’m really looking to expand my experience in white chocolate.”

    NOT “…but I’m really looking to expand my experience in white chocolate, so………..”

  27. crazy8s*

    I LOVE that LW #2 asked how to stop rambling in interviews! That is the single most annoying thing IMO that happens in an interview, and I can assure you that you get ruled out in most instances after your first 5 minute rambling, all-the-way-to-Santa-Fe response. Good for you for seeking advice on that issue.

  28. StellaMaris*

    OP2, when in interviews (or even meetings) I usually ask if it’s OK to take notes (it always is) and then I write across the top of the page W A I T. It stands for “Why Am I Talking” and reminds me to be concise and stop talking when I’m finished saying what I wanted to say. You might also find it helpful!

  29. Norman*

    It seems possible #2 isn’t really rambling in interviews. Her letter, at least, was unusually succinct.

    1. CA Q#2*

      Thanks, its been easier to learn how to be brief when its written down and I can review it before hitting send… its different with asked an open ended question in person and you feel the need to tell everything you know about it.

  30. FiveWheels*

    Op4 – here’s apossible takeaway from that story.

    You worked in another culture, where the differences from home were subtle enough that you didn’t always notice them. A colleague made a comment that you found very offensive, and you approached him about it. He didn’t agree, and there was no real resolution, but you did learn two things:

    1 – to be aware of other cultures and not assume your own is universal when you are away from home; and
    2 – that things which you find normal could be offensive from others, so you will try to be sensitive to the needs of others and receptive to their concerns.

  31. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#1….while I do agree with what Alison and many commenters have said here, with much of it being helpful, I have to admit that I would be annoyed with Sally.

    Why?

    Because Sally is presumably a skilled, longtime professional at this establishment with a fair amount of experience in her current position for which she is training OP. While I can fully sympathize with Sally’s frustration regarding these inefficient processes, at some point the constant stressful vibe and “amped up” attitude would wear on me if I were the OP. Sally clearly believes that the situation won’t change anytime soon, despite perhaps her best efforts thus far, so why continue being so upset about it? It isn’t helping. Instead it’s creating a stressful work environment that isn’t conducive to training anyone. I have worked with people who are markedly different when they’re stressed and they are painful to be around and quite frankly, I can’t take it. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted them training me on anything in that state.

    If she wants to head it off at the pass, Sally could always tell OP that the current system has quite few inefficiencies and she has escalated what she can and the feedback has basically been that things aren’t going to change and in the interest of making the most of their time together she’d really like to not get into discussing why certain things are done a certain way and would like to just focus on making sure that OP learns the system as is. For what it’s worth, I believe that OP should just learn the system as is, per Sally’s current instructions, and make no further comments on her perceived stress level and see what happens.

    It’s hard to tell from the letter if OP’s comments are adding to a mild amount of stress and sending Sally over the edge or if Sally is already so far gone that the stressed out demeanor will persist regardless of any comments. Either way, best of luck to you both. Been in both positions and it’s tough.

    1. Op1*

      I think you summed up my situation better than I did. I do agree on your points and appreciate your POV. Thanks!

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