saying no to an intern who wants to extend her internship

A reader writes:

I’m managing an intern for the first time this fall and it has not been great. Some of that is on my inexperience and discomfort with managing but also this intern is terrible at communicating (not just let me know if you’ll be late, let me know if you’re going to miss a deadline!). I emailed her reminding her of her end date as agreed on at the start of the semester and got a response that said basically “can I extend my internship?” The answer is no, we need someone who can at minimum be on time and stay awake, but I’m not sure how to tell her that kindly. I tend to be blunt and worry about verging into rudeness, though I know I need to be direct. Language would be much appreciated!

I have talked to her about the issues previously but on more of a one-off basis. There was a big “you absolutely cannot be three hours late ever without saying anything” conversation her second week because she did that three times, but other than that it’s just been one offs. I suspect I may have been too gentle in those though or not clear enough — I worry a lot about coming across as mean (have been told it’s an issue for me) and she gets sort of weepy-eyed very fast with feedback.

One option is to just say, “Let’s plan to stick to the current end date and wrap up on (date)” without elaborating.

But it would be a kindness to her to explain why, if you’re willing to. I wouldn’t do that in email though; you’d want to meet with her in-person for that. You could then say something like this: “I wanted to talk with you about your request to extend your internship. I’ve had some concerns throughout your internship about your reliability and communication. Showing up on time, letting me know if you’re going to be late, and talking to me if it looks like you missed a deadline are all really crucial things, not just here but at most places you’ll work in the future. I know we’ve talked about these things a few times, but I haven’t seen the improvement I was hoping for. Because of that, we can’t extend your internship, but I hope that getting this feedback will be a useful thing to take forward to your next job.”

Also! Take this as a nudge to work on getting more comfortable giving frequent and clear feedback to future interns or employees. You will do yourself and any future interns/employees who you manage a huge favor if you learn to see giving feedback as both (a) a kindness (because it lets people know what they must change to succeed, which most people want and deserve to know) and (b) a non-negotiable part of your job as a manager, rather than something to shy away from.

Frankly, it sounds like this intern might have been problematic no matter how clear you were, so I don’t think you need to beat yourself up too much over this … but it’s definitely something you want to tackle next time.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. Cambridge Comma

    It surprised me that someone had given the OP feedback that she was mean. It doesn’t sound like very workplace-appropriate feedback, so perhaps OP is taking something to heart that reflects more on the person giving the feedback than on OP.
    The intern asking to extend the internship does not place you under any obligation, OP! I wonder if reading about Ask culture vs. Guess culture might help you.

    1. KellyK

      Yeah, I think that’s worth digging into a little bit more, OP. Who gave you that feedback, and in what context? Do they tend to be sensitive, and is it someone whose feedback you otherwise respect? Was there a specific incident they were referring to where you were too harsh? Because giving honest feedback to people who report to you is necessary, and shouldn’t get you labeled as “mean.”

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’ve definitely told male managers before that they were coming across as overly harsh/unkind/etc. It does indeed get said to men.

          Feedback itself isn’t mean! But it can certainly be given in a mean way.

      1. OP

        Hi! OP here. “Mean” is more a word that captures feedback I’ve received in both my work life and the rest of my life. Combination of overly harsh, condescending, and rude, is what I was trying to capture. I’d say I really do have those tendencies, and I try hard to not act on them but sometimes they come out. One big concern is calibrating my tone with giving honest feedback, and I sometimes over correct when I’m feeling particularly annoyed or frustrated and end up not being clear or direct enough.

        1. fposte

          Calibrating is hard, and it really is common to overcorrect while you’re figuring stuff out.

          I notice when I rehearse these conversations in my head (and okay, out loud sometimes) I initially sound pretty frustrated. Then I take a minute to realize that the information in the words conveys my point and that the frustration is more about me wanting to signal my emotions–which isn’t usually helpful. Then I can do a “reading” that’s more informative and less a reproof. It can help to think about the way you’ve heard other people provide correction or explanation–if you think about it, you’ve probably heard people dealing with stuff that’s done wrong in a calm and explanatory way, so much so you may not even have realized that it was a correction.

          I would frame the “you fell short” feedback as “Here’s what we expect from our interns,” so that there’s a benchmark against which you can say “Your communication fell short.” That way you’ve minimized the chance of making it sound like “You didn’t call in and are therefore too awful for us”–it’s just that the performance didn’t match the expectations.

          1. neverjaunty

            This is really excellent advice.

            OP, one thing that might help is doing a practice run for the feedback you plan to give her – out loud in your car on the way to work, or maybe writing down some thoughts on a piece of paper. That can help you get the frustration out of your system a little, and it lets you hear how you are coming across.

          2. JB (not in Houston)

            I do the rehearsing thing, too, and sometimes I find that there are certain phrases that I am not physically capable of saying without sounding harsh. It’s just the way that I talk–the actual way I pronounce things and my natural intonation (I’ve tried changing that, too, but then I sound like an alien trying to sound like a human, it’s just not natural at all). So I rephrase it to convey the same information but with different words that I can say in a way that doesn’t sound so bad.

          3. TheLazyB

            Awwwww fposte is there a way you can send that thing about word-content and emotion-content to my line manger?! It makes so much sense of why i find her feedback so hard to hear (in general I am good with feedback but from her… it’s painful in a way that it isn’t from others)

        2. Jerry Vandesic

          OP, I can enthusiastically recommend the book “Difficult Conversations” by Stone et al. It helped me a lot when I needed to deliver critical feedback, and do it in a constructive rather than “mean” way.

        3. Engineer Girl

          OP – May I suggest a reason you are coming across that way? You state that you don’t like giving feedback, but that may actually be the cause of the problem. If you don’t like giving feedback you will defer it. Deferring feedback means that you’ll get more upset. By the time you do give feedback you are now so annoyed that it comes through as anger. Hence “mean”.
          Give feedback early and often before the negative emotions get too big.
          I like the book “Crucial Conversations”.

  2. Lily in NYC

    I know my boss has gotten very similar feedback before – I just doubt that the word “mean” was used, but that’s definitely what was implied. And it’s true – she can be mean when she’s stressed and needed to hear it. Why isn’t it appropriate feedback if it’s true and not relayed in a rude manner (I’m not saying it’s true for OP)?

    That said, the intern was more than 3 hours late three times in her first two weeks! Holy moly.

    1. Cambridge Comma

      You’re right that perhaps ‘mean’ is OP’s way of summarizing other feedback rather than what she was actually told. It just sounds like such a schoolyard word to me, not something that a reasonable adult in a workplace setting would say (and it criticizes the person, not the behaviour). I would rather expect to hear criticism for being impolite, impatient, too direct or too aggressive rather than mean.

    2. YesYesYes

      I don’t think “mean” is specific enough for a work context. What do you mean when you say she’s mean when stressed? Is she too personal in her criticism? Is she more direct than she usually is? Does she not spend enough training time with her team, so the team feels neglected?

      “Mean” tends to imply a personal attack, which shouldn’t be happening in a work environment. If the boss is a good one, there’s always a suspicion that the manager is giving appropriate feedback but the individual is taking it personally and characterizing it as mean.

    3. neverjaunty

      Well, there’s the irony of calling someone “mean” for being overly personal, nonspecific and harsh….

    4. Kate

      It isn’t necessarily inappropriate feedback, but it does get given to women a lot, and almost never to men.

      http://thecooperreview.com/non-threatening-leadership-strategies-for-women/

      Women tend to get told they are being aggressive, abrasive, harsh, demanding, etc, for making statements or requests. “Could you have the Peterson report in by Monday?” is fine for a man, but for a woman it has to be “Do you think you could have the Peterson report in by Monday please?”

      I searched “women abrasive unconscious bias” and got a boatload of good results, articles citing studies, etc.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        But we can’t get sidetracked on this every single post. We just can’t. I don’t know what to do about it. Sexism can certainly be relevant on many letters, but I also know that I’ll lose my mind (or just my interest in running this site) if we have to bring it up on every single letter.

        That’s not directed toward you in particular, Kate, just something I’m grappling with in general.

        1. fposte

          Maybe a guideline check? “Will raising the possibility of sexism help the OP solve her problem?” I know a lot of our discussion goes beyond mere problem-solving, but with topics that get out of hand maybe focusing on the OP’s specific need will help us avoid drift.

          1. kac

            I think this is a good point! The OP isn’t really writing for advice about the overall response to her tone, which may benefit from a conversation about the implications of sexism.

            The OP is asking about how to deal with one pesky intern, and the implications of sexism won’t really help her address the problem.

          2. self employed

            And sometimes is IS helpful. The issue may be that it can be eye-opening to someone who hasn’t been exposed to the idea, but those of us who already know it just watch the arguments go around and around like already-been-chewed gum.

          3. Hrovitnir

            I like this. I think sexism is very often at least a component of a lot of letters but I still wince when the letter doesn’t address a gendered dynamic/it doesn’t seem to be the primary problem and it gets brought up because it just always turns into a debate on sexism.

            I think “will raising the possibility of sexism help the OP solve her problem?” is the best way to look at it. I don’t know how well having that as a guideline would work, but that really is the crux of the issue here.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Per usual, I like fposte’s approach, including the proposed language/question. Its rationale and framing is really similar to the proscription on armchair psychological diagnoses.

            I don’t mean to divert, but I wonder if the scope should be expanded? Sexism is one of our most common derails, but we also derail frequently on subconvos re: age generalizations (mostly hating on millennials, but also pejorative assumptions about folks who graduated college or started their careers before the 90s) and neuro-atypicality.

            Alternately, we could post an Amtrak logo or emoji of a train conductor anytime a post starts to derail ;) (I’m 98% joking).

            1. neverjaunty

              I got that. I’m just thinking that it would be better for people to just flag it (“this is sometimes gendered”) for the OP to consider and then move on, in the absence of a lot of signals that the sexism is a front and center issue there.

                1. I'm Not Your Babysitter

                  Isn’t that just the nature of a busy comments section, though? Most people aren’t reading every post and every comment, I’m pretty sure. So you probably see this sort of comment a lot, but most people leaving the comments are not going to know it was discussed three days ago on another post. And they aren’t necessarily reading all the comments on the post they comment on either – many commenters just add their own views without reading the wider discussion.

                  I guess the alternative is a quieter comment section with less interaction and discussion. Maybe no comments at all?

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Eh, there are plenty of conventions that have sprung up here through conversations/agreements that happened exclusively in the comments section. There’s a lot of continuity.

        2. AD

          I’m so glad you said this Alison. Sexism is definitely out there, but it’s been discouraging to see countless commenters over the last two years say “that would never be said to a man”, and knowing I’ve seen men been told the EXACT same thing by managers, colleagues, etc.
          It feels dismissive, as if only women receive unfair feedback/input/criticism.

          1. Turtle Candle

            One other thing that I’ve become aware of recently is that there’s a lot assumed about what kind of man it would be–like, it’s absolutely true that white men are socially permitted to display anger in ways that white women aren’t, but that’s definitely not the case of black men, for whom displays of even relatively mild anger can be literally life-threatening. Gay men, disabled men, trans men, men living in poverty, etc.; it is notable to me that when someone says “Nobody would say X to you if you were a man” they actually mean “nobody would say X to you if you were a white, straight, cisgender, middle-aged, middle-class, able-bodied, ‘normal-looking’ man.”

            Every single solitary letter could be an unpacking of all of those issues. Every one. But I can’t blame Alison for not wanting to host that discussion five times a day every day, because even just thinking about it makes me exhausted. It’s worth calling out when it’s central to the issue at hand (as Alison did today with the letter about the guy taking credit for a woman’s ideas), but to adequately address those for every single letter? Ack. Like I say, exhausting even just to think about.

          2. Lissa

            I even remember a couple of letters where commenters assumed a gender dynamic then the OP came in and was like “actually I’m a dude” so it can be a bit like…when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, I think. Which isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of nails . . .

        3. GrandBargain

          As a very regular reader for the last 5+ years, I struggle with this too. I read the letters and comments here less often than I used to for precisely this reason — I am simply tired of seeing discussions surrounding complex and multi-faceted situations distilled down into differences between gender-based stereotypes (that may not even apply). When I do visit the blog, I also notice that I skip over quite a few letters and posts that address gender issues… how many times must we read the same discussion.

          1. Mookie

            Fine, but addressing sexism is not succumbing to a “gender-based stereotype.” Often the exact opposite.

            1. GrandBargain

              I agree that real and thoughtful discussion is always welcome. I just mean that my impression is that the threads too often settle at the level of “men always are” or “women always are” in a way that seems to cut off further exploration or insight.

              I like AD’s and Turtle Candle’s comments above.

  3. Bend & Snap

    Please do give her the feedback. During an (unpaid!) internship, I got no constructive criticism, and then the review for my university adviser listed all the reasons I sucked, with specific instances, and nothing had ever been said to me. I got a D and it tanked my GPA.

    It did teach me a good lesson but kind, firm, and constructive feedback is a real gift so early in a career. I like Alison’s wording.

    1. Dot Warner

      +1. One of the things that’s frustrated me most in my career is managers who didn’t give feedback, or who waited months to do so, by which point the one-off mistakes I was making had turned into a bad habit which was that much harder to correct. Her behavior sounds like it will really hurt her career, but if you make it clear now how Not Okay this is, it’ll be much easier for her to change.

      1. JessaB

        I was working as a temp in a place where they give monthly statistics and stuff to permanent people. I finally went up to our agency rep (this place was so huge and hired so many temps they actually had an agency person on site every day,) and literally said “Absence of feedback does not mean we’re doing okay, if we can’t see our statistics (why not we’re on the same computer system,) can you at least check and tell us everything is fine? Or not?”

        It really didn’t occur to her that nobody on the temp teams (and there were probably 50 of us in this department alone,) had gotten ANY feedback in about the three months we were already there. She fixed that going forward. But if I hadn’t been a Nervous Nellie, worried that I was screwing up it would have continued that way.

        I mean it had been going that way for years it seems. My friend had been there before me and got no feedback. Which sucks because at the end of the run when they ask “would you have them back?” and get told no about people that had no clue that messed up a lot of people’s ability to get future work.

        I would appreciate that this information does not start a “omg they hire so many temps why not permanent people” thing.

    2. AndersonDarling

      Super true. Even if the intern brushes off the conversion now, the advice may sink in a year later and be very valuable at that time.

  4. Amy Farrah Fowler

    I worked a (paid) summer internship when I was in college and though my work was good, I definitely had to be reminded of professional norm things in the way of “you must not walk around barefoot” (I had slipped my shoes off under my desk and got up to get things) I cringe about it now, but looking back, I see why when I offered to continue into the school year, they just said “no, thanks, we’ll keep your end date at x”

    1. LSP

      The owner of my company regularly walks around barefoot, and has been known to put his bare feet up on people’s desks while chatting with them. It’s never happened to me, but unlike other people, I would not be shy to ask him to remove his feet from my desk. Ew!

      1. michelenyc

        That is so nasty. They are people in my office that walk around barefoot and in their socks! I am so grossed out. I love being barefoot but that is reserved for when I am in my own home.

      2. Koko

        Being able to walk around without shoes is a serious job perk for me! My last job was a bunch of Type A/Crunchy Granola hybrids and nobody wore shoes in the office.

        My current job is a bit more formal in its culture so I mostly put my shoes on whenever I’m leaving my office. I have a Topo standing mat that is designed to be used ideally with bare or sock feet – heels can damage it and a rigid sole cancels out a lot of the benefits of the terrain – so I only wear shoes to work that I can easily slip on and off because it gets so annoying have to put on and tie shoes every time I want to pick something up from the printer. At least with sandals or boots it only takes a few seconds to put on or remove. But, if it’s before 9 AM and I’m just walking to the printer a short distance from my office, I usually don’t bother to do even that. Most likely no one will even see me and if they do I feel like I earned the privilege by being there so ungodly early (nobody really gets to work before 10 on the floor I work on).

        1. JessaB

          I am way more stable on my feet without shoes on (I have disabilities that make knowing where my feet are in space a problem, so getting tactile information seriously helps.) If I never had to wear shoes or socks ever, I’d be thrilled to death. But I get having to, although a place that didn’t require me to would be wonderful and I am careful to make sure my feet don’t stink etc.

      3. AdAgencyChick

        I once had a boss who had her pedicurist come to the office, and would call me in to have a conversation while the pedicurist was working away on her feet.

        She owned the company, so I guess it’s good to be queen, but I’m still squicked out, nearly 15 years later.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Ugh, on the “clips their nails at their desk” scale, that’s only slightly less gross than LBJ’s policy of making people talk to him through the bathroom door while he was taking a dump (to demean them). Why don’t people understand that many hygiene/grooming practices are not work appropriate??

    2. Colorado

      Oh man, I cringe too looking back at my first paid engineering internship. I was just clueless, a tad arrogant, and definitely learned some good life lessons. Whew, that was 23 years ago and I still cringe.

    3. af ds

      I do take off my shoes under my desk at work if I’m wearing flats or heels (not for sandals, boots) but no one can see and I don’t walk around barefoot. Hopefully its okay

      1. Shazbot

        It’s probably OK as long as you don’t have noticeable foot odor. And I mean noticeable to other people, not to you, because if you have it you are probably used to it.

      2. Koko

        I think you’re fine if it’s just at your desk. Some people have weird hang-ups about feet like they’re equivalent to a butthole or something, but most reasonable people are not going to care what you do under your own desk.

    4. hayling

      At the company Gusto (a fairly new payroll processor/benefits company based in SF), the entire office is shoes-off! I would think that was so weird, especially come in to interview or as a guest.

  5. Code Monkey, the SQL

    Feedback is so important! I know it’s uncomfortable to give, but if you can be factual, I think you will really help Intern out a lot. I wish I had gotten more feedback the first few months of my first “big” job – I cringe looking at the status reports I sent that included, jokingly, my high score in Solitaire, since I was still waiting on an assignment.

    And while she might get a little weepy, that’s not necessarily an indicator that you’ve been unkind. I don’t know how many people I know that have mentioned how they hate that they cry so quickly in a professional setting. Giving her a low-risk space to process your comments might be another learning opportunity for her.

    1. the gold digger

      I can get weepy, but that’s because I become mortified at not having done it right.

      That said, there is no reason to let someone else’s tears stop you from being direct. It’s something many of us have to learn to deal with – Code Monkey is right – better in an internship than at a permanent career-type job.

      1. CMT

        And if OP thinks the intern might cry, I know there have been lots of letters here about giving feedback to people who cry.

    2. Hrovitnir

      Yes, I wish accepting crying as a possibility was more normal. I do not come across as the crying type (and I’m not, for some value of “personalities we associate with crying easily”) but my upbringing has primed me to emotionally overreact to negative feedback. I will not act on those feelings (which are sometimes excessive anger if I feel it’s unreasonable) but I can’t stop the inevitable tear production. I hate it, and if the other person would just potentially offer me tissues and otherwise ignore it I’d be ecstatic.

      1. Hrovitnir

        Oh, I forgot to add, if dealing with someone who is being manipulative the “treating this as a normal physiological reaction to feeling bad” approach still works! Much like taking people at their word when they say they don’t want to date you is still a good idea if they really are “playing hard to get”. Hopefully they’ll learn to be honest. :P

  6. Jane D'oh!

    OP, I would find it hard to respect the feedback of someone indelicate enough to call me “mean” in a professional setting. If they want softer or more carefully-worded feedback from you, they need to lead by example.

    That said, AAM’s wording is superb.

    1. Lily in NYC

      OP has already come back and let us know that she used “mean” more as a catch-all phrase to explain feedback she has received in both her work and personal life.

  7. Meow

    I’m surprised that the advice here is that it would be “a kindness” to tell the intern what the issue is as opposed to saying OP “should”, because they are a manager. I mean, thats a big part of the learning process that interns go through and I think managers who are doing internships should be offering that critical feedback as part of the interns “compensation”.

    1. Leatherwings

      Well I think that the distinction here is that the internship is nearly over at this point, so it’s less of an obligation to give big-picture negative feedback vs. letting it go because it might mortify her that it wasn’t given as clearly as it could have been earlier (by OPs estimation).

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Right. There was really an obligation to do it all along, but now we’re at the end and it hasn’t really happened. But it would still be good to do it now.

  8. CM

    As someone who has cried in a manager’s office before, I can understand why her reaction makes it harder for you to give her negative feedback. I think the kindest thing you can do is to treat her like a professional, even if she is crying — pass her a box of tissues, but continue giving her the feedback as if everything is normal. Try to act like you barely notice the tears; try not to become distressed yourself, or feel like you have to take care of her or make her feel better.

    1. sylph

      Oh yes. Treat me like I’m not making terrible faces and weird noises, PLEASE! I had a boss who was overly compassionate when this happened and it made it SO much worse.

      1. TheLazyB

        On the rare occasions I get upset at work I’ve always been good at saying ‘please don’t be sympathetic just be matter of fact’ before they start to hug me or anything and make me dissolve into a pool of goo. Did it instinctively when telling my first manager I’d broken up with my boyfriend in case I got upset in work and it worked well.

      2. Lemon Zinger

        I’m in the same boat. When I’m crying because I’m embarrassed about doing things the wrong way, the LAST thing I want is to be treated any differently.

    2. Turtle Candle

      Yeah, as someone who stress-cries sometimes–people suddenly becoming all sensitive and concerned and whatnot because I’ve started leaking out the eyes actually makes it worse. Which is okay if it’s something like “my cat died and I’m really sad about it,” because in that case just going ahead and having a good cry is cathartic (for me), but if it’s something like “you are rightfully taking me to task for screwing up my job” I would much prefer a calm but neutral response that will make it easier for me to get my shit together.

  9. AnotherAlison

    As another blunt, direct person, I wouldn’t hesitate to provide blunt, direct feedback. It’s not personal; it’s work feedback. I actually really hate it when people soften feedback, and I think the softer messages often get misinterpreted (as the OP said for some of the one-off conversations). I’d rather hear, “Your meetings are poorly run and I’d like you to attend this session for meeting training, have an agenda issued to everyone before, use the parking lot for off-agenda issues, and summarize all action items before ending the call,” than, “Some people have said you need to be more authoritative in meetings.” I know how to take action on the first feedback, but no the second.

    1. fposte

      I don’t even see that as blunt vs. soft–I think that’s informative vs. not informative. I wouldn’t necessarily start with “poorly run” because in my circles a positive startup is more effective, but the point is here’s what I expect and the standard isn’t currently being met.

      I think soft isn’t necessarily the same thing as evasive or unclear–but it often ends up being that, so it’s understandable that there’s an association.

    2. neverjaunty

      Speaking as another blunt and direct person, it’s not a choice between “mean” and ineffective, and blunt and direct is not synonymous with “clear, professional and conveying useful information to fix the problem”.

      To pick on your example: “Your meetings are poorly run” may be blunt, but it doesn’t tell me what the problem is with my meetings, much less how the training or other assignments will make them better. All it tells me is that the speaker thinks I’m doing a bad job of running meetings… somehow. I can try to go backward and figure out what they think the problem is from the offered solutions, but that’s a road to misinterpretation – say, if the boss’s problem is my meetings take twice as long as we have time for, that’s not going to get fixed if I create an overly-long agenda and let people run on forever summarizing action items.

      1. fposte

        Yup–the more specific and factual you can be about both what’s happening now and what you’d like to have happen, the better off you’ll both be. Sometimes that means some homework about things like error rate and frequency, so you can say “Your work includes this error approximately once daily, and the usual standard is about twice a year; that’s where I’d like to see yours as well.”

      2. Cassie

        This is one thing that I liked about the ballet world – in class, teachers are usually very direct. You’re not going to get some broad “dance better” comment. It’ll be something like “straighten you leg”, “relax your shoulders”, “pull up your stomach”, etc. They are corrections you hear from your first ballet class as a tiny tot all the way through to your dance career. (Well, okay, they probably aren’t giving those kind of corrections when you’re a pro, but you get the idea). It’s not mean or rude, but just direct. Also, teachers are frequently shouting out corrections throughout class over music; they don’t have time to sugar coat these corrections.

        I know some students who would get upset at getting any correction – for many of those students, they tended to be very hard on themselves so any correction felt like yet another example of their failure as a person. The teacher could be as nice and gentle as possible, and it wouldn’t have mattered.

        Of course, there were some teachers whose style wasn’t exactly my cup of tea – people who think they are funny and make jokes at the expense of the student they are giving the correction to or make a big deal about it. Those teachers were/are the worst.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes! I was going to say the same thing!

        There is a kind of “blunt” feedback that isn’t really feedback; it’s just unnecessarily harsh and doesn’t give the person anything to work with/from. So while the manager thinks they’re being direct, they’re actually being just as vague as someone who says, “Some people think…” because they’re not identifying where the employee needs to make changes. Another form of feedback that often makes this same mistake in is the “compliment sandwich,” which my friends call the s!@$ sandwich.

        Direct feedback explains the outcome/deliverable you’re looking for and your expectations, explains the gap between the work product you’re receiving and your expectations, identifies the points at which things didn’t work, and then offers concrete suggestions or guidance for how to address specific issues and bridge the expectations gap.

  10. Q

    Just a note about giving feedback…try to make it as quickly as possible to what ever you are referencing, good or bad. The first time she was 3 hours late I would have immediately had a brief conversation about expectations of hours worked and what she needs to do if she will be more than 10 minutes late.

    I try to do this for good things too, like if I overhear a nice phone conversation, I’ll say something like, Hey, I really like how you handled that. It could have gotten out of hand but you remained calm and worked it out.

    1. Seal

      Agreed. Years ago a supervisor brought up an apparently significant incident at my performance evaluation 6 months after the fact. Since no one had brought anything to my attention one way or another at the time of the incident, I had no idea it was such a big deal. But rather than address the issue at the time so I could actually have done something to rectify the situation, my supervisor instead chose to blindside me with it 6 months later. I stopped taking him and the job seriously after that.

      1. Myrin

        Question with regards to that situation (which has been brought up similarly by others): If you are the intern/fresh grad/new worker in this particular situation, should you actually bring this up to the supervisor? I’ve never been in such a situation, thank god, but I know that my immediate instinctive reaction would be to ask why I was never told that before so that I could actually correct it. But is that overstepping or crossing a line or would it be okay to say with the right wording?

        1. Artemesia

          I think when it is something more subtle like poorly written reports or how she gave feedback to a client etc then it is one thing — but anyone who has been showing up very late, missing deadlines, and just generally being as unprofessional as this intern would have a lot of nerve to whine about why she wasn’t given feedback ‘so she could correct’ her behavior earlier. Yes. She should have been. But also she should be ashamed at such obviously pathetic performance and not be chastising her boss for how she handled the feedback.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I think it’s possible to convey that you wish you’d know. Sooner so you could have corrected it, but it requires riding a very fine line, and in my experience, most first-time interns have not figured out how to do it without sounding (a) arrogant, or (b) so out of touch with very basic professional norms that it’s almost blinding that they’re complaining that they weren’t told not to do some very egregious and obviously unprofessional thing.

          The other thing folks who are first-time interns / new grads / new workers could do is proactively ask for feedback, and Alison has provided really great sample language for how to draw out that feedback (a generic, “how am I doing?” Or “do you have concerns with my performance?” are too broad to elicit a useful answer). That way, if your manager is dropping the ball on giving you periodic feedback, you can help them get back into the habit of it. The tough part, for intern supervisors, is that telling someone they’re screwing up is usually a draining and unfun experience. So if you’re messing up super often, at a certain point some managers will start avoiding giving feedback because they’re exhausted and grouchy.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Ugh! Sorry about the typo monster. I meant to write “you wish you’d known sooner.”

    2. the gold digger

      The first time our high-school intern was late (two hours), the office manager and I ripped into him, telling him that we had had to call the school because we were so worried that he might be dead on the highway. We told him that if he was going to be late, HE HAD TO CALL US.

      I don’t see any need to sugarcoat this kind of thing. “Intern, the hours we agree to are X to Y. You need to be at work by X. Lateness is not acceptable. If there is an emergency, you need to let us know as soon as reasonably possible.”

      1. OhNo

        I agree, for some issues there is really no need to sugarcoat it to be nice. Being on time is a great example – it’s expected of students from when they first start school, so there’s no reason to be excessively kind about it. They really should already know that expectation.

        There are other things that might make more sense to soften – especially things that are workplace- or context-dependent – but lateness is not one of them.

        1. the gold digger

          I agree – for things that are more office-dependent, you soften. I would use the approach that I use when there are children in my house doing things that make me crazy and the parent is not correcting the kid, even though the kid is right in front of the parent.

          “Wakeenito, in this house, we do not put our shoes on the sofa.” “Shavonney, in this house, we do not open and close the blinds repeatedly. We do not open and close the cupboards. We do not open and close the fridge.” “Wakeenito and Shavonney, if you are going to roughhouse, then I need you to put on your shoes and go outside to do it.”

          Yes. I have had to say every single one of these things.

          For an office, I would say, “Shavon, in this office, we usually leave our shoes on.” “Wakeen, in this office, we don’t clip our fingernails at our desks.”

  11. kac

    A possible middle path: reply to the email with Alison’s wording about keeping to the original end date. Then, separately, set up a meeting to review the internship and provide overall feedback. This feedback can be presented as: “things to take with you as you move forward” and doesn’t necessarily have to be directly tied to the consequences of her internship ending. Seperating the two might help with the tone issue the OP is concerned about and might make the intern in question less likely to feel like they are “getting fired” and therefor less likely to get weepy and/or defensive.

    1. k

      I very much agree that there should be that distinction. If she associates the feedback with being “fired”, she may write it off as “Oh they’re just jerks, what to they know anyways?”, especially since you have a tendency to come off harsh or blunt. If it’s framed as a standard exit interview, I think she’ll be more likely to listen and really take it in.

      For some interns, this may be the first time they’ve worked in an office, or worked at all. It’s easy to forget that professional norms we think of as second nature had to be learned at some point. I hope you’re able to find a way to give feedback so she takes it to heart. If so this could serve as one of her most valuable work experiences.

    2. OhNo

      That’s a great idea! It would also give the OP the chance to discuss any other aspects of the intern’s performance (including some good stuff, I hope!) they they may not have had the chance to point out yet. If the OP’s interested, it would also be a good time to get feedback from the intern. They may have ideas on how to make things a little smoother for the next intern to work there.

  12. Stellaaaaa

    OP, I personally feel that you are somewhat obligated to give the intern firm feedback about her performance; learning-as-you-go is the whole point of interning, and your company would be failing if they took on interns that they didn’t intend to teach.

    I’m a bit rusty on the regulations here, but I believe that internships must be compensated in some way, either in credit (as students) or in money (for non-students). If she’s trying to extend the internship beyond graduation, there’s a good and legal reason to say no to her. I’m not even sure credit-only internships can extend beyond the semester, since credit compensation is moot when school isn’t in session. If she’s talking about coming back next term, that’s easy to wriggle out of…just say you’ve already chosen next year’s interns.

    1. Naomi

      Well, the credits could count towards next semester, so I don’t think that’s an actual barrier–we don’t know that the intern is graduating. But all that is beside the point. OP doesn’t have to “wriggle out” or find a different reason to use as an excuse; they already have the right to say no to extending the internship. And it sounds like this was already a situation where the internship was ending unless OP’s company decided otherwise, not a situation where the intern would continue working there until there was a reason she needed to leave.

      It sounds like you’re looking for reasons to give the intern that will upset her less, or seem more ironclad, but I’d argue that OP would be doing the intern a disservice by using these excuses. “We’ve already chosen next year’s interns” could come across with a subtext of “We’d happily have hired you again if our slots weren’t already full.”

    2. neverjaunty

      Why “wriggle out of” anything? As you say, interns are supposed to get feedback. Knowing that her conduct was such that they would not hire her again is important feedback.

      1. Artemesia

        I agree. I don’t think you should separate the feedback from the unwillingness to extend the internship. She needs to learn sometime.

  13. Is it Friday Yet?

    Just wanted to chime in that if you have additional interns after this one, I think sitting down with them in the middle of the internship and at the end is really helpful. I did two unpaid internships in college, and during one I received absolutely no feedback at all. For the second, my manager was great at giving feedback, and I think it really had a positive influence on my career. I am still in contact with Feedback Manager #2, and she has been a great mentor to me. In our one on one meetings, she went over the basics (dress, punctuality, skills related to the job, etc.), but she also asked me about my career goals, and offered advice. She was very candid with me about things that she had learned when she was in my shoes. Those stories about her own inexperience early in her career made me feel more comfortable since this was the first time I had ever been reviewed one on one by an employer. It made it easier for me to listen to her when she explained the things that I needed to work on.

    1. Other Duties As Assigned

      +1 to midterm and end of internship feedback sessions. I’m the internship coordinator for my university department and over the past eight years have placed over 300 undergraduate interns in companies around the U.S. and overseas.

      I require midterm and final reports from both the intern and their primary supervisor; the internship location is told of this expectation at the outset. I tell the student to keep a work log of hours and duties and when they get to the halfway point (about 70 of the 140 hours needed for three credits), they should send me a written progress report AND alert their supervisor to send me a midterm update as well. When the internship is complete, both the student and supervisor each provide a final report with their take on the internship.

      I think having this formal system of reporting has gone a long way to heading off possible problems. It forces internship supervisors to be more direct early on if an intern needs some guidance and the student knows there will be a report to me while the internship is underway, which helps keep them focused on doing a quality job.

  14. Jen RO

    Not related to this letter in particular, but thank you, Alison, for drilling all this into us constant readers! I used to hate any conversation that might be seen as confrontational, and when I became a manager my first instinct would have been to just ignore all the problems and hope for the best. Seeing it from a “helping” point of view makes it easier for me to give negative feedback . I’m practising this now on a new employee and I hope it works! She is not where I want her to be, but at least she seems to be improving the areas that I pointed out to her.

  15. Temperance

    I’m a woman who occasionally gets called mean or unfriendly (or variations on the same). At least in my case, it’s because I’m more logical than I am nice, and I don’t sugarcoat things. It’s fair criticism. I’m like an Erudite in Divergent in many ways. I still value logic over blind feeling, but I try to be a wee bit more understanding of others.

    I decided to work on it to try and soften my approach while retaining the message. I think Alison’s advice is great here, and I do think it’s very valuable to let her know the reason you’re declining to extend her internship if she pushes. One of my better qualities is that I have a good neutral tone, and I can keep my voice tempered when angry, so I’m good at these conversations. (For example, I had to tell my summer intern that being late every day was not acceptable, and that I couldn’t give him better work when he couldn’t manage to be here on time. I kept it calm even though I was raging internally.)

  16. KimberlyR

    As a non-voluntary crier, please don’t take her weepiness personally-but also, don’t go soft on her because of it. Anytime I am feeling a strong emotion of any sort (happiness, anger, mortification, etc.), I cry. I don’t mean to and I don’t want to, but tears come to my eyes. As a child, it was much worse and I have had some luck working on it as an adult but it does happen. I continue to work on this problem, as it is absolutely not appropriate for me in a work setting, but I’m not there yet. Your intern may not be able to control the tears, no matter how much she wants to.

  17. Nervous Accountant

    I…don’t understand… how do you ever think it’s remotely OK to be 3 hours late MULTIPLE TIMES A WEEK??? unless the intern has some misunderstanding about the hours. Bc other than that, I can’t understand someone is stupid enough to do that. Like someone said, it’s drilled in to you since school to be on time…?!!!

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