can I give my coworker part of my raise, calling a coworker’s actions “unacceptable,” and more

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

1. Can I give my coworker part of my raise?

I don’t know the right words to describe this, but is it possible that somehow I can give up/ transfer/forfeit my raise and give it to a coworker? I’ve worked for a great fast food place for about a year and a half, and I just recently got a raise. I would like to give some of this raise (or all, or more) to a certain coworker in my store. Is there any thing I could do to make this happen ASAP?

It’s a very kind thought, but it’s unlikely to be feasible. Employers want to pay employees what they believe their work is worth, and that’s really a transaction between the employer and the individual employee. There are lots of reasons for this. For example, one reason is that if you left, they’d suddenly need to lower your coworker’s pay, and that’s rarely a treat to do.

So, typically you can’t reassign part of your pay to someone else. (I mean, you can of course give your money to anyone you want on your own, but you can’t funnel that donation through your employer.)

However, if you think your coworker is doing a great job and should be recognized for it, you can make a point of sharing with your or her manager the things she does that make her so valuable.

2. My boss says I shouldn’t have called a coworker’s actions “unacceptable”

My manager has a habit of trying to correct my word choice and tone in emails I send. We don’t have the same style in writing, which can make some of his corrections very grating for me. I’m wondering if I’m overreacting to a conversation today.

My role is that of a tier 2 resource in a 2-tier technical support organization. I asked our management team for a tier 1 resource to work on a project — it was a time-consuming yet simple fix that would circumvent a bug in our product. The client was quite unhappy and the fix needed to get done quickly. The person assigned to do this was asked to log into a system and update 150 pieces of inventory as soon as possible. I left for the day soon after they were assigned.

Instead of completing the project or asking a tier 2 representative questions (there are three of us), he made a spreadsheet of useless information and asked via email how to proceed. In my email to his manager (and mine, but not to the employee in the question) the next day, I said it was “unacceptable” that he didn’t complete the task and the client was now even more upset.

My manager followed up with me and said he feels I shouldn’t use the word “unacceptable” when talking about another employee because I am not a manager. I find it a little unacceptable (hah) that this is what he focused on in this situation. He wanted me to agree I was wrong and I declined. What do you think? Am I overreacting or is he?

Well … “unacceptable” does read pretty harshly, especially in email.

I wouldn’t say that you should never, ever use that word just because you’re not a manager. There are plenty of things that you could appropriately call unacceptable. And it’s entirely possible that what your coworker did in this situation was indeed unacceptable. But if it wasn’t a clear violation of a policy or practice and more of a judgment call, then yeah, I can see why your manager thought that was overly harsh, especially in a context where he’s already been coaching you on tone.

It seems like the bigger issue here is that you and your manager have different ideas of what professional communications should look like — and in those battles, the manager usually wins, because he has the prerogative to say “it needs to be like this, not like that.” I’d try focusing more on what he’s asking you to do, big-picture, and decide if it’s something you want to do and can do. If you can’t or don’t, you’ll need to figure out how much of a problem that’s likely to be for you in this job (and how it might impact things like assignments, promotions, raises, and your overall quality of life there).

3. Setting boundaries with clients who proselytize or try to sell things

I work for a nonprofit that provides direct services to community members. We value warm and respectful relationships with clients as part of our work.

One tricky issue that has come up is that some clients have a persistent hard sell or hustle (i.e. proselytizing in which a client tries to convert us to his/her religion, or direct marketing in which a client tries to sell us cookware), which is uncomfortable. Clients and providers have an ongoing relationship and recurring appointments, and also a power dynamic (being the service provider providing services and a client receiving those services). Because of this, I have felt cautious when responding to these situations. Outside of work, this is something I would create firm boundaries around, starting with a polite “no thank you” and then escalating from there as needed to shut it down.

Do you have any advice on how to do this while also remaining professional and respectful to clients? I don’t want to dread my upcoming interactions with certain clients, which is starting to happen.

With the sales stuff, you’d be doing your staff members a favor if you gave them a policy they could easily cite, so that they can truthfully say, “We’re not allowed to have any sort of business relationship with clients.”

With the religion, arm them with a few phrases they can use, like “I don’t discuss religion at work, but let’s get back to Work Topic X” or “I have a firm policy against discussing religion at work” or “I prefer not to discuss religion.”

If a client continues to press after these initial attempts to shut it down, it’s reasonable to say, “I really need you to respect our rules/my personal policy on this in order for us to continue working together.”

4. Can I make small alterations to a reference letter?

I’m currently in the process of hunting for a new job after being employed on a two-year contract. As part of this, I’m seeking PhD opportunities. One annoying aspect of this is that they seek references up front at the application step, and this usually involves the referees having to write up recommendations each time for each application to a specific system, or sometimes giving me a pre-written recommendation letter they have signed.

From my previous job search, I have two pre-written and signed recommendation letters from my professors. Unfortunately they were written before I’d gotten my final grade for my masters and both mention that in the letter. In addition, they are roughly three years out of date.

Would it be mostly okay for me to delete the offending line off each of the references and change the dates forward to the current year? (For reference, the line is: “At the time of writing this reference, Jon Snow’s marks on his project are not yet available, so I am unable to comment on them or his overall performance on the course.”)

I would just ask them for new ones, but I recall one of them was pretty annoyed from being spammed with up-front reference requests from various institutions and after about 60 requested not to be listed as one of the contact references. (They were okay with the continued use of the letter though.)

I’ll be able to get one or two from my current job but I’ll need a third one, and it looks better coming from an academic supervisor so I have limited options.

Nooooo, you cannot alter a reference letter — not even the date. That would make it fraudulent and is not considered okay to do.

You could probably send a copy of the letter to the reference and ask if she’d be willing to update the date and remove the outdated line about your grade not yet being available. That’s a pretty easy request, and most people would be willing to do that, especially if you apologize for the inconvenience she’s already had. (However, you’d want to think about whether a three-year old letter that apparently doesn’t comment on your overall performance in the course is still a valuable reference.)

5. Snow boots when interviewing

My third interview (first in-person) at an excellent job is this Wednesday. It’s in the city and I’ll be taking the subway. But we’re going to get nailed with a blizzard on Tuesday. The roads will be clear enough by Wednesday that I don’t want to delay the interview, but I’m pretty sure dress shoes will be destroyed on the walk from the subway to the office. How do I manage, short of changing out of my boots on the front steps of the (tiny, no reception area) office? Where would I put the wet boots anyway? Should I just deal with wet feet and hope I don’t sprain an ankle on the walk?

If the boots will fit in a tote bag, swap them out for dress shoes and stash them in the tote when you arrive. If they won’t fit in a tote, ask the receptionist if there’s somewhere you can put them during the interview.

You are not expected to be a magical job candidate whose interview garb is magically immune to snow. Your interviewers will also have dealt with the snow on their way to work, and they will understand that you did too, and this will not be A Thing at all.

{ 305 comments… read them below }

  1. Sarah*

    For #4: wait, you’re applying 60 plus PhD programs? I would try to set up an appointment with a professor you trust and talk to them about how to target your efforts. There is basically no field I can think of there there are 60 quality programs that are actually placing their grads in good jobs, and you shouldn’t even be applying to all the quality programs–just the ones that are a good match for your research interests and where you’ve done the background research to know who you’d want to work with and that there is adequate (that is: full) funding. That said, yes, you definitely need academic references, not only job references to apply to a PhD programs.

    1. MommaCat*

      I would guess the professor got 60 requests all together from different candidates, or that one system glitched and sent the 60 requests. Applying to 60 schools would be Expensive.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        The part about agreeing to let OP continue to use the recommendation but asking to be removed as the contact referee sounds like it’s all of OP’s applications, not applications from different candidates.

      2. Dizzy Steinway*

        Does it cost money to apply to PhD programmes in the US?

        I figure it must be 60 for one person. Doing this for 60 separate students isn’t exactly unusual.

        1. Lady Julian*

          Yes, between $50-$100, depending on the prestige of the application. The official reason is that having an application fee weeds out applicants who aren’t serious about wanting to get in.

          1. KL*

            It also helps pay for the application system. I think most schools now use a 3rd party vendor for applications. At my institution, most of the application fee goes to pay to the vendor.

            1. dawbs*

              FWIW, when I was applying to college (not PhD, the 4 year degree), the application fees were hard to swing.
              I screwed up my nerve and called…I got 5 of the 6 places I was applying to to waive them.

          2. Ann O'Nemity*

            And if you’re applying to programs that require standardized assessments (GRE, MCAT, etc), you’re probably going to have to pay extra fees as well. For example, the GRE test fee includes sending scores to 4 schools – the other 56 would be $25/ea.

      3. Cassie*

        Our university switched to a new vendor this year for applications and the system would send out reminder emails for reference letters even if you already submitted it, and the reminders would be sent about a day apart. Definitely annoying after the first couple of reminders. There also wasn’t a way for an applicant to re-send the reminder to select individuals, so if 1 professor asked for a reminder, all of the profs would get a reminder.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, that was my reaction as well. It’s not strategic to apply to that many programs, and I’m not surprised OP’s ex-professor quickly became overwhelmed and wanted to opt out. I’ve written recommendation letters, and I would be concerned if a “recommendee” were taking a blunderbuss approach to applying to programs.

      But back to your question: Dude. You cannot alter recommendation letters. It’s a HUGE deal, and if you get caught, you’re going to be blackballed from any program that receives the fraudulent letters.

      It sounds like this might be a good opportunity to rekindle your support network. If you’ve fallen out of touch, or if you’re not in the same geography anymore, I’d send them an email with the request re: updating the letter, and note at the bottom that you’d love to catch up if they have time. If you’re in the same geography, offer to grab coffee to catch up (but be ok with them saying no or turning you down). If they agree to meet with you, ask them about big picture strategy.

      And maybe consider additional, newer recommendations. I know you have to have a certain number of prof-recommendations, but it would be helpful if you have a recommendation from someone from the intervening 3 years.

      1. OP #4*

        Keeping in touch with my support network is definitely my weak spot, it would be essentially a cold call after 3 years. I’m located in a different country now so face to face isn’t an option. A politely worded email about getting an updated reference is likely what I’m going to have to do. I just have to hope my professor actually remembers who I am as our contact was not very frequent (but enough that they know the work).

        I have two industry recommendations from my current job so it’s mainly just the academic one that’s the concern.

        1. Dizzy Steinway*

          I’ve contacted lecturers after a longer period of time and they haven’t minded – they appreciated being asked. In my entirely anecdotal experience (from a survey of one person!) they only mind if you don’t ask before listing them. Though you can ask once, it doesn’t have to be for each app. So try not to worry – they will be used to hearing from former students in this way. It’s okay that you’ve not been in touch – they won’t have time to keep up with all their former students after all.

          1. Dizzy Steinway*

            I don’t mean I listed them without asking – just people have mentioned to me that they would have minded / appreciated me asking.

          2. Sam*

            I have to disagree with you here. I work in academia and have many academic friends spread throughout numerous US institutions, and I have to say that “appreciative” is not a word I would use to describe their collective feelings about rec letters. They are hugely time consuming. Profs will probably be used to asks from old students, yes, but OP should make things as simple for them as possible and should not assume they remember her work. Unless she was truly exceptional (in a good or bad way), odds are they won’t remember details.

            She should also not assume that she can put their name down for anything without telling them about it unless she’s explicitly received blanket “put me down for anything” permission from them. (And 60 for one student, even if spread over years?! In the US, anyway, there is no situation in which I can imagine that being appropriate, and no professor of my acquaintance would be ok with that.)

            1. TL -*

              OP needs to ask but it doesn’t really matter how the profs feel about getting letter of rec requests – in academia, it is very much part of their job. That being said, the norm is to email with a brief description of how you know them, a brief update, and attach your CV so as to make things as easy as possible for them.

              1. fposte*

                Yup, agreed. It’s not always a delight, but sometimes it is; either way, it’s what I do.

                And yeah, good tips on the reintroduction–definitely include a resume/CV, please, because people forget that.

              2. Cassie*

                It is part of their job, but…. professors (especially tenured ones) can get away with not doing them – they either decline or just never respond to the student’s email. I know some profs/instructors do want to help out the students, or if there’s a particular student who is outstanding, etc. Otherwise, my bosses pretty much just use a standard letter that states the person took this class, had a solid foundation, showed good teamwork, etc. I think it’s pretty pointless, but that’s the way the system is set up. (And these students do get in to great PhD programs with these letters, so it hasn’t hurt them).

            2. Newby*

              If the OP is simply asking for the grade on their final project to be included in the original letter and the date updated, it is a relatively small request that doesn’t even require the professor to remember them.

            3. Caity*

              I have my past students send me a paper they did well on from my class and their resume, and sometimes more info about what they’re applying to, but I rarely mind writing a letter for a student. This term I got one extremely last second request and one automatically generated email from an application system where the student had listed me before asking, but nonetheless I wrote them both very positive letters. I’m working with undergrads, so it’s very possible that the caliber of letter a PhD applicant wants is more thorough and burdensome, but I think mostly it’s all expected part of the job.

        2. Vin Packer*

          Another academic here: definitely do the polite email. And also, see if you can find someone–anyone, doesn’t have to be a letter-writer–who is willing to walk you through how this process works. That’s a much smaller and less specific ask than a letter so it should be easier to find someone for that purpose.

          There’s no shame in not knowing–why would you? and anyway you’re asking for advice, which is the smart thing to do–but there are several things in your letter than are not in line with the norms of PhD programs, so you should definitely consult someone in this academic field in addition to Alison (which is what other people applying to PhD programs do–I can’t imagine applying to one without the help of an academic mentor).

          1. LabHeather*

            Good point. When I applied for my PhD (it was an open call for project descriptions, the institute provided the funding) I reached out to one of my previous supervisors and asked for his suggestions. He was amazing and sent me the email of a freshly hired (like, a week or two before this) professor who had publications right up my ally. Understandably, he was a bit overwhelmed by his new position and had not anticipated taking on a new PhD student just yet. My previous supervisor pretty much talked me up to him so much that he agreed and we went to work crafting a project proposal. I don’t think I would’ve gotten it without him, especially not within the deadline.

          2. Lablizard*

            It isn’t the norm for US based programs, but very much the norm for European ones, which is where the OP is applying.

            1. Vin Packer*

              The high-seeming number of applications is less abnormal than in the US, but three-year-old reference letters that make no mention of final projects, professors withdrawing as references because they’re overwhelmed by one person’s requests, and applying to programs blind with no guidance from within academia?

              And while it’s good that OP asked for advice before altering reference letters, if the question hadn’t been published in time and the OP had done it, it would have been a major, major misstep, so if Alison is her only resource for these questions, she needs to find an academic to walk her through this.

            2. One of the Sarahs*

              I disagree – I’m in the UK, and there is no way that applying for 60 PhDs will have them all at the same standard – even if it’s applying for 6 different PhDs at 10 institutions.

              And fees and conditions vary SO widely across countries, that again, scattergun-applying to eg 6 institutions in 10 countries is definitely not recommended.

              (Source: I’ve looked into MA programmes across European Universities, as there are some great ones that are taught in English and far, far cheaper than at home, and there’s an enormous range, just on costs/languages taught in/language requirements.)

        3. Sarah*

          It’s fine to do it via email and 3 years is fine–just make sure to provide context (these are the classes I took with you, here’s what my research interests are), etc. and offer to provide additional info like writing samples, your research statement, etc. upon request. I would also at least ask your Masters degree thesis advisor about setting up a phone call-it really sounds like you could use some academic advice because applying to a PhD program is very different from applying to a regular job and it will help a lot to have a good strategy.

    3. OP #4*

      I just want to clarify that I had sent this in while I was still mulling it over and don’t intend to modify the letters.

      Applied, this was for the previous job search 2 years prior and was over the course of nearly a year so not as high as it initially appears. I’m Europe based and it doesn’t cost anything to apply, we also tend to have a more specific PhD project approach rather than a get into grad school then pick.

      I intend to take an even more targeted approach this time as my job gives me a significant edge on applications. Aside from references yes funding will be the biggest issue.

      1. LabHeather*

        (also Europe based, recently got a phd position)

        I would say that you should at least try to reach out to the professor who wrote you the reference to ask if they could remove the line about your (lack of) final grades. It is worth a shot at the very least. If they do not want to, I would still use the reference letter, if it is a good one.

        I am a bit surprised that a letter of reference mentions grades at all, to be honest. Is that common? After all, for an academic application, you’d be asked to submit your grades anyway, so they will have that information at hand with or without the reference saying so. My letter of reference just mentions the various projects I’ve been involved with and how easy I am to work with.

        1. TL -*

          I would expect a letter of rec to speak towards your ability to do research (I’m American) for a PhD program. For instance, “Her ability to understand the science drove the project forward. Her insight and precise work was a key component in our discovery of how X works. Her work is both reliable and reproducible. ” with maybe an example or two to illustrate their point.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        We approach it the same way. I had a good idea of the research I intended to do, and picked programs on that basis. Which is why I’m aghast that you’re applying to 60 programs, because that isn’t targeted, that’s unfocused and scattershot.

    4. SophieChotek*

      Well something like Interfolio might work. It can send confidential letters that save the professors tons of time. If they would be willing to update your letter, etc., then you only have to ask the prof to send one letter to Interfolio and then INterfolio sends all the letters on to the institutions. Most Institutions will accept Interfolio letters (even if technically copies) as “originals” and “confidential” due to the way inter folio is set up. (I think I ran into like 2 that would not, and then I really had decide if I wanted to apply that badly to go back and get letters, since my profs were so grouchy about doing letters/updating about 2 years later.) It does cost the applicant more (yearly fee, plus small fee each time to send the letters), but to me it was worth it so that I knew I was not using up my capital with my profs asking for so many rec letters here and there — I could “save” some of that “capital” for something more important later, so to speak.

    5. Jessesgirl72*

      Since the letter is 3 years old, I’m wondering if the OP is using reference letters from when she was applying to a Master’s Program, and now wants to use the same letters for her PhD program.

      Regardless of spamming so many universities with too many applications, the OP really could use some more recent references.

    6. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I’m glad this jumped out at someone else. Applying for 60 PhD programs indicates, to me – someone who completed one – a lack of academic focus. Honestly, it seems like you don’t get what a PhD is or what to be looking for.

      You’re not playing a numbers game, you’re looking for an advisor with whom you are personally and professionally compatible with, you’re looking for funding streams, you’re looking for a supportive community of grad students, and you’re looking for adequate TA/RA support with a tuition waiver. When I applied for grad school, I started with a field of 7 programs, winnowed them down to two very quickly, and applied to those. There simply cannot possibly be a universe of 60 programs that would work for you.

      1. TL -*

        OP says she used these letters for jobs apps (I’m guessing over the last year of her Master’s program?)

        But I am concerned that a letter of rec that feels the need to say, “I can’t speak to her grades as of yet” isn’t that strong of a letter of rec.

      2. Elizabeth H.*

        It sounds like the LW#4 was previously using these letters of rec in job applications and now is doing a new job search but applying to some PhD programs also, not just jobs. I think the 60 recommendation requests were from job application systems not from PhD programs. Based on context it seems like the LW lives somewhere it is normal for a job application to have a letter(s) of recommendation as a component part.

        I think it would depend on field (like I can imagine it not being super different between a research science industry position vs academic position) but I would think you’d want an academic letter of rec to speak to different things than an employment letter of rec.

  2. an anon is an anon*

    Re #5: The letter says there’s no reception area, so I’m assuming there’s no receptionist either?

    This is one of my fears when interviewing in the winter because I too live in a city that gets blizzards and I’ve interviewed at a couple companies where there’s no building receptionist and no office receptionist. Think start-ups or smaller companies where you go into a multi-office building with no lobby security or desk, use the elevator to get to your floor, and then it’s just an open office with no receptionist. Or a small building where there’s just the front door and everyone’s desks, no receptionist or waiting area.

    Once, years ago, I interviewed at a Big Well-Known Company who did give me a lot of crap about asking where to put my snow boots and my interviewer said I should have driven (I don’t drive) or taken a taxi (I still would have had to walk in slush and snow to get from the street to the sidewalk). I like to think they were the exception, but I still get wary of interviewing in the winter because of that experience.

    1. Dizzy Steinway*

      I also wondered why there would be a receptionist if there’s no reception?

      To the letter writer: make sure to bring a towel and a waterproof bag! And good luck!

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I have been to interviews where I arrived at the location (often offices in an old townnhouse), was admitted and found myself in an area full of conference rooms, then somebody came out to see what it was I wanted.

        In a previous job, the person who was the reluctant receptionist didn’t like being on the reception desk as it was isolated from the rest of the office, so they would sit with everyone else and just come out whenever the doorbell went.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s pretty common to have a receptionist who answers phones, deals with deliveries, etc. but without having an actual reception area (especially in offices that don’t get a ton of visitors).

        1. Blizzard*

          My office doesn’t have a receptionist. whoever’s closest to the door at the time deals with deliveries/interviewers, etc.

          1. Jesmlet*

            We don’t have a reception area but as the “office manager” aka supply orderer and air filter changer, I deal with deliveries and the odd interviewee or solicitor.

    2. Sydney*

      Just wear the boots and don’t change into shoes. I live in a winter city (lots of snow and cold) and always just keep wearing my boots through out the interview. No one has ever batted an eye. And why would they?

      1. lcsa99*

        This is exactly right. Everyone interviewing you will have walked through the same snow and slush and yuck. They won’t even notice your shoes and will certainly understand, and if they do judge, you probably don’t want to work there anyway.

        1. Michele*

          If you are wearing a suit, the boots will look funny. However, I wouldn’t see a problem with swapping them out for other shoes (especially if you will be there all day) and leaving the boots in a bag.
          I don’t know how long the OP’s interview is or how many people they will meet with, but if I am the lead interviewer, I always offer to let people leave their coat or whatever in my office. I wouldn’t see boots as being any different than a coat.

      2. Sadsack*

        Yeah, you have to wonder about these people who had an issue with boots in winter and their making ridiculous suggestions. Did they not wear boots in? I think you just bring a bag and change your shoes when you walk in the door. Anyone who balks is probably going to be a problem coworker or manager in other ways, too, so there’s that.

        1. blackcat*

          I do think, like in the comment above, some people interpret taking public transit or walking (which would require boots) instead of driving (which might not, if there’s an attached parking deck) as “less professional.”

          For me, that would be a big red flag that these are unreasonable people, but unreasonable people do exist…

          1. an anon is an anon*

            Yeah, I think this was the case for Big Company I interviewed at. Every once in awhile I still meet people who just assume everyone with a professional job drives (ignoring the fact that 1. it’s expensive to have a car in the city and 2. some people move to the city so they don’t need a car)

          2. Observer*

            Anyone who thinks that walking or public transportation is “less professional” is SOO unreasonable, that I’d bet working for them is going to be a nightmare. This is especially true in big cities, where parking is hard to find. Keep in mind that attached parking is fairly rare in denser cities, and it’s generally NOT available to interviewees.

            1. SL #2*

              One of the biggest perks of my job is that we’re downtown and have attached parking: both a visitors’ lot and an employees-only lot. But if I ever feel like not driving, the metro stop is 2 blocks away. But we’re a rarity; everyone who comes to the building always comments about it!

          3. Not So NewReader*

            Some unreasonable folks are simply disconnected. They don’t see the many, many variations that happen because of weather.
            My friend had a boss from NYC. We are much, much further north. My friend wore boots to work as he went in and out of buildings all day long. Walking through knee deep snow banks was just part of his job. The boss lectured him on not wearing dress shoes.

            My friend said there was a part of him that felt he was saying something on the level of “two apples plus two apples equals four apples”. He felt he was explaining something so basic and so obvious and no one else had ever questioned the boots.

            So he sighed and went on to have a convo about The Obvious. He summarized by saying that for these reasons safety precautions DEMAND proper foot coverage.
            He never had that particular conversation with the boss again. The boss was disconnect from my friend’s day-to-day work reality. The boss was basically an okay person, but he seemed to require lots of explanations.

            Listen to other people, OP, anyone who would question you about wearing boots to an interview is telling you something about how it will be when you are working for them. You will be explaining yourself and explaining obvious things frequently.

            My current job requires nice office-type clothes. Before one particular storm I commented to my boss about wearing a snowsuit to get into work. I was making a joke. I absolutely HAD to show up for work, that was a must as she SUPER needed me. She shook her head and said, “Wear whatever it takes for you to feel comfy and get here. The heck with what others think.” And this is what a good boss sounds like OP.

          4. Birdbrain*

            No kidding. Maybe it’s a regional thing, but in my snowy mid-sized city the public transit is FULL of professional people going to and from their professional jobs. Many pair their suits with snow boots at this time of year. Everybody changes their shoes once they get to the office.

            I travelled to a winter interview wearing my interview shoes once. It was a mistake. I arrived with freezing feet and snow on my good shoes. OP, go ahead and be more sensible than I was! I think it’s more professional to change shoes than it is to 1) wipe salt/slush off your shoes in public or 2) interview with wet dress shoes (and possibly ruin them).

            1. Jiya*

              Even outside of winter, it’s common practice to wear sneakers while you’re walking on the street or riding the bus/subway/train/whatever, then to switch to your good shoes once you’re arrived. For women, especially, nice work shoes might expose a lot of the foot or have a high heel that’s uncomfortable for brisk walking.

      3. blackcat*

        Some folks may *want* to change.

        I have one pair of snowboots. They are perfect when it is about 15F degrees out, and fine when it is between about -10 and 30. But my feet will melt if I wear them inside for any significant length of time. I always want to be able to swap the boots for more indoor-appropriate shoes, if only for my own comfort.

        1. FDCA In Canada*

          God, yes. We get six months of winter where I live, and everyone changes their shoes when getting to work (also going to the doctor, dentist, hair salon, basically anywhere you might be sitting and waiting for a while), and while it’s not an inconvenience or anything strange, not many people want to sit around in their snow boots. If I could get away with classy leather boots, it might be OK, but we all have big waterproof furry boots that go almost up to the knee–they’re absolutely not comfortable to sit around in! And frankly if I was interviewing I’d be far more comfortable in regular shoes, since interviews are a nerve-wracking experience anyhow.

          1. blackcat*

            Yeah, I’m wondering if some of the “just wear them, no one will care” vs “yes, always change” is a bit regional. When I lived in the mid-atlantic region, I could get away with waterpoof boots that were reasonably stylish, and totally fine to wear all day inside. All I needed was a thick pair of socks, and my feet would be fine. I didn’t buy any new footwear when I moved from a really warm climate to the mid-atlantic, just new socks.

            I am now much further north, and waterpoof boots only help so much if it’s below zero F out! My feet need to be warm & dry! So I have huge, intensely insulated winter boots. I’ll wear them when there’s no snow on the ground if I’m walking to work and it’s below 15F or so.

          2. Sydney*

            Northern Alberta here and I see NO ONE in big furry boots. There are lots of options of boots that you can wear for an hour or so without melting. And I’ve never seen anyone change out of boots at a hair salon or dentist or doctor. At work yes but not anywhere else.

            1. Chinook*

              Another Albertan and I can say it is a mix bag when it comes to taking boots on and off. I have both “Nanook of the North” style furry boots good to -40 and lighter winter boots that I can spend all day in. Some offices have designated “boot room” or other type areas to remove your outdoor shoes and clients willingly walk around in stocking feet because they know the area is kept clean as a result. More than once I have been the first person to leave my outdoor boots in the mudroom to come back and find half a dozen other pairs surrounding it. It is almost like people needed permission to leave them there (or it was ingrained in us in school/at home that a pair of outdoor shoes sitting by the door triggers us to remove our own).

              BTW, this is not a year round thing either (unlike when I was in Japan). These same offices, once the snow is gone for good, put away/clean their boot room rugs and everyone wears their outdoor shoes inside because we know it won’t make a mess.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      Thank goodness in my industry you could just wear the boots to the interview! Big Well-Known Company sounds awful.

    4. MWKate*

      That seems really odd. Living somewhere where it snows from about October through March, snowboots are pretty common footwear at any given time. Did they expect you to hurdle over any particularly large areas of slush or walk in on stilts? That dirty slushy mess is worse than walking in the snow IMO.

      For OP – I’d just wear the boots in. Stick your dress shoes in a tote and if they are reasonable (which should be a requirement if you want to work there) they will either tell you its fine to leave them on or show you a place to change them.

    5. Observer*

      An interviewer actually told you that it was unacceptable to walk and / or take public transportation to an interview?! If this guy would have been anywhere in your chain of command, not getting that job is dodging a bullet!

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Ugh, that sucks. If I were interviewing you and there were no reception area, I wouldn’t care if you set them by the door or just wore the boots into the office. Bad weather is bad weather–candidates have no control over that.

  3. Turanga Leela*

    OP #5: I can’t speak for every city, but in NYC, it is completely acceptable to show up in snow boots (and giant puffy coat and hat). If it’s still snowing, they won’t expect you to change outside. Go inside, and if there’s no lobby or waiting area, just comment cheerfully on the weather and change out of the boots while you’re taking off your coat and other layers. If they tell you not to stand on ceremony and just leave your boots on, then leave them on.

    Also, you can bring a plastic shopping bag in your tote/purse/briefcase. Stash your wet boots in there so that they don’t drip everywhere while you’re in the interview.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. When I was in New England we routinely saw folks come into work/court in snow boots, and no one said anything about it (nor would they have).

      If you’re interviewing for a more conservative workplace that is not understanding about weather, then try to get directions to the restroom before interfacing with the folks with whom you’ll be interviewing. I had to do this once in D.C. right after Snowmageddon, and I carried a second bag, stuffed my boots in there, and put on heels in the restroom before walking into my interview (an office within a larger building). Also, if the snow isn’t too bad, they sell really excellent women’s boots that are weather/snow/water-proof but more stylish than traditional snowboots, which could be another option?

      1. Poster Child*

        Yes, I was going to add that OP should ask to use the restroom when she arrives. And make any changes/adjustments to her outfit there.

        1. Amber T*

          Exactly this! Former receptionist here just north of NYC – I’ve seen men and women come in with heavy snow jackets and thick boots. We take their coats, they ask if there’s a restroom where they can freshen up, then we stick their totes in the closet (or they keep it on them). No one bats an eyelash.

          A potential boss/hiring manager/company that cares that you’re wearing snow boots when it’s snowy is indicative of other problems, I think.

    2. Somniloquist*

      Agreed. I interviewed for a job in NYC wearing snow boots and it wasn’t a big deal, even in the very conservative, business professional office. I got the job.

      Everyone in the office probably knows that it’s more difficult to change out of snow boots when you don’t have a desk to keep shoes.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      Yup. No one in my industry would expect you to carry an extra set of shoes. Some people do the extra shoes thing because they want to, but I would never look askance at a candidate who showed up in boots.

    4. Jesmlet*

      Yeah no one will care. I’m assuming you’re in the northeast like me and it would be totally normal. If you really don’t want to change your shoes in front of them, you can probably find a coffee shop close by to pop into and just swap them there and stick them in a bag. Either way, don’t feel too weird about it, everyone there probably did the exact same thing.

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      I wouldn’t bat an eye at anyone wearing snow boots if the weather necessitated it.

      That said, there are snow boots and then there are Snow Boots. As an interviewee, I probably wouldn’t be wearing knee-high lace-up fur-lined snow boots or those unstylish hunter green duck boots if I could help it. Especially when there are a lot more discreet options.

      1. myswtghst*

        I think this is the key for me – the type of snow boots. If they’re big, insulated, furry, and/or brightly colored, it might be a good idea to see if you can change shoes. If they’re relatively inconspicuous, and you’re wearing dress pants that mostly cover them, I wouldn’t bother.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        I work in a conservative industry, and I’d make an attempt to change my shoes when I got there. But on the flip side, if you’re planning to change your snow boots, I don’t think it matters what they look like.

      3. Chinook*

        “As an interviewee, I probably wouldn’t be wearing knee-high lace-up fur-lined snow boots or those unstylish hunter green duck boots if I could help it.”

        I agree to a point. If I am interviewing and it is very cold or there is too much snow for me to walk safely in my dress boots, then out come the big furry boots with dress shoes in my bag. If my potential employer has a problem with me valuing my safety (because I like having 10 toes attached to my feet and don’t want to risk frostbite), then that tells me a lot about what they are like as an employer.

    6. SueBee*

      Agrred. I live in Boston and have never felt ‘dinged’ on an interview for bringing a plastic bag and changing into my shoes anywhere. The normal conventions don’t apply on snow days.

    7. K*

      Exactly. I don’t see why this is such a big deal; you just bring along a plastic bag in your tote, swap your shoes, put the wet boots in the plastic bag. Just like if you have a big drippy umbrella.
      It’s not just about what shoes to wear. You’re showing the interviewer that you can cope with slightly inconvenient circumstances and still look/be professional.

  4. INTP*

    For #3, is there any reason why the same techique suggested for the sales pitches couldn’t work for the religion pitches? (I.e., an instruction to say “I’m sorry, we aren’t allowed to discuss religion with clients due to policy.”) That seems pretty inoffensive to me on the client end, and clients might be more inclined to respect it than an individual employee’s personal policy not to discuss religion (since they can’t change the organization policy in one conversation but might think they can change an employee’s mind).

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, I have clients who routinely try to “save” me, and I use that line. It draws a boundary but usually has a less alienating effect on clients , and it has the added benefit of being true :) I know folks will say it’s better to be honest/direct that it’s a problem for OP personally, but I’m kind of instrumentalist and think it’s ok to pursue strategies that de-personalize the problem.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        Removed because very funny but off-topic and led to a long string of off-topic responses. I’m really trying to rein this in, y’all.

    2. Antilles*

      Yeah, citing a policy is really the way to go here. Every adult has dealt with plenty of corporate/bureaucratic policies ranging from ‘reasonable’ to ‘ludicrous’, so it’s the sort of thing that most people never question. Even if you run into one of the few people who will try to argue “yeah, but that’s a dumb policy”, it’s still an easy out – you just repeat blaming the policy and redirect the conversation “yeah, I know it’s an odd policy, but it is what it is right? anyways, let’s get back to teapot design…”

    3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I’m a little resistant to this approach because it fails to address the fundamental impropriety of hard-selling cookware and/or religion to a service provider. I mean, it’ll work, and shut it down, but it’s not like I’d be receptive to a hard sell on Herbalife if only it weren’t for those pesky policies.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        I think given that they’re a nonprofit providing direct services, it’s probably better to take the softer “cop-out” approach even if it doesn’t address the underlying impropriety. They’re here to serve these people, and the OP did say she wanted a way to deal with this while maintaining good relationships with these people. A lecture on not hard-selling probably wouldn’t go over well in this context.

      2. Jadelyn*

        I think at that point it’s a question between principle and expediency. If the goal is to make a principled stand, then this approach won’t work. But if the goal is just to get out of the crappy part of the conversation without causing hard feelings, this is a solid way to go about it. Not everyone is ready, willing, or even able to be the person to take the stand and shut that shit down, and it’s asking a bit much of people to feel obligated to do so at work on a regular basis, especially since at work you can’t just walk away from an annoying friend or acquaintance.

        1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

          This is to both you and MegaMoose – what do you think of something like, “I don’t do business/discuss spiritual matters with my clients, as my relationship with you is focused on meeting your needs and delivering the services you need. Let’s keep our working relationship focused on what you came here for, moving forward.”

          1. Jadelyn*

            I think that would be ideal and works well at refocusing on the actual task at hand, in a way that it would be hard to take as offensive. It also provides a more “blanket ban” in addition to just “not right now”.

          2. MegaMoose, Esq*

            I think that language is fine, but I also think it’s okay to just flat out blame it on company policy. Sometimes you can connect with people on a “screw the man, but what are you gonna do” level. I agree with Jadelyn’s point – sometimes expediency works over principle. One’s tolerance may vary with respect to minor dishonesty, however, which is it’s own issue.

          3. INTP*

            If someone is extremely determined, they will just see this as an opening to argue with you about why you shouldn’t have that policy or should make an exception for them because they’re super reasonable people and it won’t go south with THEM. I grew up in a denomination that believes in eternal damnation for nonbelievers and trust me, the most dedicated armchair evangelists are never going to give up out of respect for your boundaries or a sense of social propriety. If anything that gives them a sense of martyrdom – “I’m such a good person that I’m allowing people to think I’m obnoxious for their own good.” They’ll only give up once they accept that you are a lost cause. Saying “I will get fired if I talk about this with you” is a much quicker way to bring them to this realization than trying to explain your personal boundaries and policies and why you deserve to have them respected.

            I certainly think you could make an argument for not treating everyone from the start like they’re going to be this kind of proselytizer, and trying to take a principled stand at first, if you’re willing to endure the hassle. But assuming that teaching propriety and communication skills is not within the scope of services provided, from a professional results-oriented standpoint I think the “employer policy” is best. It minimizes time and client rapport lost to discussing the validity of employees’ personal boundaries and therefore allows employees to focus on the services they’re there to provide.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        It depends what the service is that OP is providing. If she is counseling life skills then I’d agree that it falls short.
        However if she is there to teach how to fix a proper meal or check the kids, then she is better off not making this into a longer conversation with No End In Sight. She has other fish to fry.

        I worked in human services for a decade plus and it seems to be part of the job to just realize that we cannot thoroughly convey every life lesson we would like to convey. It’s up to someone else to show that person how harping on a sale or a particular faith is not the route to go. It’s tough because as an employee you can see so. much. need out there. It feels like you are trying to empty Lake Michigan by using a tablespoon to bail with.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          This is a really good point. I had an eye-opening experience in law school working at a clinic where I let myself get too sucked into a client’s problems – I was supposed to be helping her get her documentation together for a custody fight and instead found myself falling into general-life coach and therapist land. I ended up dropping the clinic before it got too bad, but it was still bad news all around.

        2. INTP*

          I agree. Plus, if they aren’t teaching life/communication skills, I think that you could argue that attempting to convince clients of what is appropriate conversation and what isn’t is inappropriate proselytizing too. Ultimately it’s not the service providers’ business what the clients think is appropriate or not, just how the clients interact with themselves (again, assuming that the services provided have nothing to do with appropriate conversation). Just because someone needs help with, say, tax preparation or occupational therapy for their kids doesn’t mean that they need your help with every facet of life. (Just like if my corporate clients are obnoxiously bad at reading emails thoroughly, it’s not appropriate to lecture them about proper reading attentiveness, it’s only appropriate to handle the problem as it relates to me.)

      4. Observer*

        This approach doesn’t need to be limited to cookware. Rather it should be used for ANY hard sell.

        “We are not allowed to do business with our clients outside of the services we provide.” Lather, rinse repeat. Broken record style.

  5. Sabine the Very Mean*

    I can be fairly combative when I feel I’m right and I can relate to OP#1. I’ve never had a manager challenge me further after I’ve declined to concede a point he’s made but I know that’s from pure luck and a very patient past few managers. I have a funny duality to my personality where I am afraid of punishment and getting in trouble but I am also quite rebellious. I agree with OP that ‘unacceptable’ is not a terrible word to use. I too tend to be a little harsh to some if I am in a certain situation though normally I’m quite agreeable and unassuming. But I’m no fan of semantics and I don’t see a difference between unacceptable, not acceptable, and ‘ I/client can’t accept this’. I’ve told a coworker, after he called my cell extension at 6:45 am for a non-emergency (I was on-call), that his actions were not appropriate and I think he reacted similarly to the manager here but to me, his actions were simply.not.appropriate. I’ll reap what I sow, I suppose but I doubt I’ll change much.

    1. Dizzy Steinway*

      I think you meant OP2?

      Your opening line made me wonder if the letter writer feels like their manager is criticising the message or meaning of what they said (i.e. they feel it’s unacceptable and the manager seems not to agree) when perhaps the manager isn’t disagreeing with the actual message, just the wording? So they’re not saying OP is wrong, just to express it differently?

      It’s just a thought. Tone of voice does get lost on email. I don’t know what a tier 1 or 2 resource is, but it strikes me that, in general, the strongest way to make a point is to stick to observable facts, e.g. Fergus was asked to update 150 teapot descriptions. He has compiled a spreadsheet listing teapot glazes but has not updated the descriptions as agreed. Client was expecting the update to be completed by end of business yesterday. Client has sent two complaint emails and wishes to know why the work was not completed. What explanation can I provide please?

      Also, I don’t know what a tier 1 or 2 resource is but are you absolutely sure your brief was clear on what to do? I am struck by the fact that you left for the day and he might have misunderstood what to do.

      In general, it does look more professional if you keep your tone soft in emails so your manager is doing you a favour. I really hear that it’s grating for you, but try to remember that using very strong or combative language tends to put people on the defensive.

      Here’s an example. If I said: I think your word choices are unacceptable and you’re wrong to ignore your manager, how would you feel? Annoyed? Defensive? Irritated?

      Whereas if I said: It sounds like softening your language might be helpful in your workplace. I wonder if you could use your manager’s tone in emails as a guide for what they’d like you to do instead? would you be more amenable to that?

      Even if it’s true to say something is unacceptable, it won’t necessarily get the results you want. In particular, this might have felt like an attack on the other manager and would certainly feel quite combative to them.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        “Also, I don’t know what a tier 1 or 2 resource is but are you absolutely sure your brief was clear on what to do? I am struck by the fact that you left for the day and he might have misunderstood what to do.”

        DING DING DING! This jumped out at me, too.

        1. designbot*

          That’s what I was wondering too. The manager may disagree with the whole assessment of the coworker’s approach, because if LW wasn’t clear enough the coworker’s actions may have made complete sense to someone who doesn’t know exactly what LW wanted from him. Also the timeline seems really short to me for an “unacceptable” level judgement. LW shot off her request, left the office, and when she came back in found he had questions. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me at all and in my office it would go exactly that way if the person requesting info left immediately after the request, because there’s almost always clarification needed.

      2. Antilles*

        Also, I don’t know what a tier 1 or 2 resource is but are you absolutely sure your brief was clear on what to do? I am struck by the fact that you left for the day and he might have misunderstood what to do.
        I was wondering the same thing. Based on the letter, I get the impression that the T1 resources are more junior/less experienced in general. And the phrasing “assigned by the management team” makes it sound like the T1 was just tossed over to OP on short notice to help out with the crunch.
        If you start with the possibility that the T1 is more junior and not familiar with the project, there’s plenty of blame to go around – OP’s directions might not have been sufficiently clear, OP could have waited an extra couple minutes for T1 to get started and spot-checked after he’d been working for 10-15 minutes (which would have quickly revealed he was off-track), OP could have explicitly told him to call her cell with any questions rather than email.

        1. Rat Racer*

          I agree with all of you: it could be that the reason the OP received an “unacceptable” outcome was because the request itself was unreasonable.

          But leaving the fairness of the request aside, I think the issue at hand has more to do with the fact that the OP is not the Tier 1 co-worker’s manager. Nor is the OP a client of T1’s. The word “unacceptable” is a judgment call best left to management, or to those with a direct service relationship. Words matter, and calling a co-worker’s work product “unacceptable” is a judgment that strikes me as outside the OP’s purview to make.

          Perhaps, in addition to thinking that OP was too harsh, her manager thought she was out of line.

          1. AD*

            Agreed with your assessment. Without knowing the full context of OP’s organization/position/work culture, it’s hard to be absolutely sure but I think it’s likely that the use of the word “unacceptable” was problematic for her manager, for the possible reasons you cited.

      3. SleepyMel*

        Just my .02 but I think OP #2’s manager was correct. It’s just not appropriate to use that word to someone unless they are your subordinate. But no judgement to OP at all. Sounds like a really frustrating situation. I can come across too strong in emails sometimes too so I’m not judging by any means. I just want to back up that manager because I think he was right.

      4. myswtghst*

        “[…] it strikes me that, in general, the strongest way to make a point is to stick to observable facts […]”

        Agreed. And I liked this (from below) too: “It’s not always helpful to think in terms of who is wrong or right.”

        In situations like this, it’s easy to get hung up on who didn’t do the thing they were supposed to do, but it tends not to be very productive. If softening language just isn’t OP’s style, it might be worth taking the approach outlined above – stick to the facts, leave out any value judgement / emotions.

        1. Nonprofit manager*

          “It’s not always helpful to think in terms of who is wrong or right.” – Second that.

          I’ve also received feedback on my tone in the past. What I learned from that experience is that communicating exactly what I think isn’t the goal – that’s for when I’m complaining to my spouse later on at home – it’s more: “What can I say here that will produce the outcome I want.” Softer tone almost always helps in that one.

    2. Dizzy Steinway*

      Also, I think the thing is that ‘unacceptable’ is a value judgement and it can be helpful to stick to facts.

      It’s not always helpful to think in terms of who is wrong or right. It can be useful to think: I think it’s unacceptable that Jane broke the teapots but Fergus prefers me not to use the word unacceptable so I’ll find a different word.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        I’d elaborate on this: “unacceptable” is a value judgement that a manager is entitled to make, not a coworker. You can believe it’s unacceptable, you can treat it as unacceptable, but the person who ultimately has to accept it or not is the manager.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          This is what struck me. If you’re not this person’s manager, you do not get to decide what is unacceptable for that person and what isn’t. If I were this person’s manager, I’d take issue with your wording.

          1. SleepyMel*

            Yes exactly. I think the manager was correct and, if looked at from a different angle, actually giving OP good advice.

    3. MK*

      I also don’t see much difference between unacceptable, not acceptable, and ‘ I/client can’t accept this’; all three are competely out of line for the OP to use to describe the actions of someone who is not their report, even if they are junior to them. I don’t actually get the feeling the OP’s manager is trying to argue semantics; she is trying to address the very real problem of the OP coming across as the other employee’s boss. Because it’s up to a boss to set these parameters, the OP apparently has no authority to do so. And I see two possibilities here: maybe the manager doesn’t think the other employee was totally wrong, and is addressing only the OP’s attitude, because that’s the main issue, or, the manager addressed the other employee’s mistake with the other employee and doesn’t see any reason to share this with the OP (because is not a manager) and is now dealing with what she sees as the OP handling the situation badly.

      Your example doesn’t seem relative to me, because in that case you do (and should) have the authority to set some boundaries about not being called at an ungodly hour for something that can wait till a more reasonable one.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I agree that the manager is likely not trying to argue semantics but is trying to address how the OP comes across via e-mail. I also think that the Boss’ perception of OP is supported by the OP’s own word choices in the letter when OP says “he made a spreadsheet of useless information.” While this may be entirely true and accurate, it’s unacceptable (HA!) to refer to a co-worker’s efforts this way. While you may not have said this in your e-mail to your boss, I think the word choice is indicative of your communication style.

        While I realize that some may argue that word choice isn’t a big deal, which may be true if communicating with people who know you well and have context, such as part of a close-knit team, that is not the case if you are regularly communicating with folks that you don’t know or have had limited interaction with. I’d personally err on the side of being “too nice” and up the assertiveness via e-mail if you have to. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away when you’ve been too harsh straight out of the gate. If you send a request for something to be accomplished that doesn’t get done, you can then follow up, with “I may not have been clear, but project X has a hard deadline of Y because the client is expecting the bug to be repaired. I can assist with questions to facilitate and expedite the project as needed. Please prioritize to ensure completion by deadline Y.”

        Please heed Alison’s advice and really try to hear your boss out on this. By correcting your word choices, your boss is trying to help you and perhaps, very politely tell you, that you come across harshly in a way that may eventually harm your career.

        1. Wanna-Alp*

          I get the impression that OP#2 is making poor word choices, too.

          Here’s a suggestion that might help: rather than making judgemental assessments (which are not yours to make when you aren’t that person’s boss) about a problem, first consider whether it really is necessary to say something, and then if so, focus on the consquences that have occurred from the problem. The idea is to stay task-focused and avoid hurting people’s feelings with assessments

          For example, instead of saying that he made a spreadsheet of useless information and it was unacceptable that he didn’t complete the task, leave out the “unacceptable” and “useless” judgement bits entirely, and just stick to saying something like “Unfortunately the client was upset, because the […] task wasn’t completed.” The client being upset will speak for itself as being something undesirable; you don’t need to add your judgemental adjectives as well.

          I apologise if this comment comes across as overly harsh, because the word “judgemental” is a bit of a harsh way to describe what I think you’re doing, but if you are bristling about “judgemental”, well… that’s really my point. Other people are bristling similarly at your use of “unacceptable”.

          1. Czhorat*

            Yes, this is excellent advice.

            The direction of the communication should be to make the scope and urgency clear and find a way to solve the problem. Scolding a co-worker accomplishes neither.

            You can objectively state the repercussions and clarify what needs to be done. ie:

            “An already unhappy client was expecting this yesterday. We need *the exact data* in *the exact format* as we provided for *example client at example time*. We need this immediately if we are to have a chance at salvaging an already strained relationship. Please let me know what support I can give to make this happen.”

            Trust me – the fact that the Tier1 person didn’t do what they should have will come through loud and clear.

            1. SleepyMel*

              Nice ! This is perfect wording. And you make a good point , it is not necessary to use judgy language to convey the basic fact that someone else dropped the ball. It is better not to in most cases where people can figure out for themselves what happened.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            This whole sub-thread illustrates to me why it is so hard to coach someone on tone. I’ve been coaching my direct report on tone, and he thinks it’s an invitation to argue semantics. I’ve pointed out that it’s an overall pattern of people feeling disrespected by him because of his tone, but he just sees things in black and white and doesn’t see the sense in using any kind of softening language. He’s been coached by our HR rep, and my boss also talked to him using the language that Wanna-Alp uses above about “avoiding hurting people’s feelings”. He will improve for up to three weeks at a time, but he always goes back to using harsh, judgmental language and making people feel disrespected, and he refuses to see that there is any problem with this. I’m about to have a talk with my boss about beginning to manage him out because of this.

            1. Czhorat*

              Two things that we all need to remember:

              1) Tone is more than “semantics”. It is an overall connotative message sent with the denotative message in your communication. “This is unaccaptable” sends a message about your respect for the person about whom you’re talking and of how you perceive your position and authority.

              2) Semantics matter! We have lots of different words in the language for a reason, and a single word choice can sometimes cause a big change in the reaction to your message.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Yes! I’m saving your comment for future use when I try to explain this to someone.

              2. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

                Nailed it. “Semantics” is so often used to dismiss someone’s argument as useless quibbling, but semantics are critical to effective communication, and semantics carry connotative messages that are often just as important as the literal meaning of what’s written. Sarcasm is semantics. Irony is semantics. It’s a critical part of our language and it’s absolutely up for discussion and review.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I meant to add that, surprisingly, he doesn’t see any problem when he uses harsh, judgmental language with other people, but he is micro-attuned to any perceived harshness or judgement from other people to him. I don’t see how he can feel that way about other people’s tone toward him but lack the capacity to imagine how it must feel to others when the tables are turned.

              1. Dankar*

                Well, you’ve just described my cousin. I love him dearly, but he’s the same way. Highly-attuned to any perceived slights, utterly clueless when it comes to his own slighting.

              2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                It’s common in people on the narcissistic side of the empathy spectrum. Not saying he’s a narcissist, but people who have trouble with empathy are often startlingly blind to how they affect others.

              3. Is It Performance Art*

                I have a coworker like that too. Once or twice when they’ve been very harsh to someon I’ve pointed out that they don’t like it when the other person uses what they see as harsh language, they explain the other person deserves that harsh language.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  There’s a self-centeredness that goes with this kind of outlook on the world – my dad’s family is all like this. When people are harsh with them, it’s rude and mean and not okay. When they’re harsh with others, it’s because that person deserves it. In both cases, the self-centered person’s perception is centered – their hurt feelings, their value judgments of other people’s behavior and what they deserve. There’s no sense of balance between what *I* think you deserve, and what you might feel as a result of what I give you. My feelings are all the matter when you hurt me, and my feelings on what you deserve are all that matter when I hurt you. Deeply unhealthy.

              4. ancolie*

                Uuuuuugh. The wooooooooooooooorst!

                I hate when people communicate like that. BUT, if they’re totally fine with receiving communication that’s just as brusque/harsh/etc., it’s something I’ll accept as just a personality difference. But when they can’t take what they dish out? Aw hecky naw!

            3. Marillenbaum*

              That seems reasonable. I don’t think he’s hard to coach because coaching on tone is hard–I think he’s hard to coach because he’s a bit of a glassbowl who isn’t interested in integrating feedback from his manager (!). Good luck with managing him out of the role; sometimes, people simply refuse to learn that interacting respectfully with one’s colleagues and clients is an essential work function, and that it’s not unreasonable to discipline or even fire someone who refuses to meet that expectation.

            4. Observer*

              People “feel” disrespected because they ARE disrespected. It’s not “just semantics”. Especially since he clearly understands the mechanics involved and is CHOOSING to use language that gives offense.

              It certainly sounds like time to manage him out if reasonably good relationships among staff matter. (I don’t mean that everyone needs to be best buddies, but that people can be professional, polite and respectful of each other.)

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                He is an admin in a support role, so it is important to keep pleasant working relationships with faculty and other staff. I have had faculty tell me that they do not feel respected at the front desk because of him. I think he has a chip on his shoulder because he has a graduate degree and he is in a lowly admin role. He tries to “prove” to the faculty that he is just as smart as they are and that he is therefore their peer. Our faculty are very respectful and (for the most part) are not looking down on anyone because they happen to be in an admin role; they just expect him to fulfill the duties of the role. He doesn’t understand that because he isn’t their peer professionally, that doesn’t mean that they are doing him wrong by not treating him as such.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Oh, lord. Of all the possible people who need to be perceived as pleasant, respectful, and helpful, an admin is at the top of the freaking list!! I’ve done admin for years and the thing with that kind of role is you rarely have direct authority over anyone, but you very frequently need to get people to do what you need from them regardless of the authority. So you learn to gently, subtly corral people in the direction you need them to go, but that relies ENTIRELY on your ability to present directives in a pleasant, non-directive manner so that people are willing to take your guidance even in the absence of objective authority.

            5. Nonprofit manager*

              “He doesn’t see the sense in using any kind of softening language.”

              There you have it. If we think about things in terms of knowledge, skills and attitude . . . Well, you can coach, train or provide resources to support the knowledge and skills but I don’t think you can coach attitude.

        2. Abby*

          This was my impression, too. Never underestimate the power of word choice and how it can affect the receiving party’s attitude. Years of online gaming has shown me how easy it is to put someone on tilt (especially if they’re already anxious) with an unnecessarily harsh word– and that’s often just from random people you get matched up with, not someone you might have to work with everyday.

        3. Lorig*

          Yup, the poor manager is trying to give OP a read on relationship-building and culture, and OP is ignoring it for the sake of being “right”. And it doesn’t sound like OP is in the position to be a technically correct jerk, yet. I work with a population that’s majority engineers, so I deal with this personality daily, and it’s not pleasant.

          Some of the best feedback I ever got was just after college, working retail. Our store manager sat me down during my performance review and said, “You know, usually when I criticize you, you try to explain WHY you did X that way, and try to justify your actions. Honestly, I don’t really CARE why. I just care that you’re hearing my criticism and feedback and will do it differently next time.” For my 22-year-old self, it felt a little harsh, but it was kind, constructive criticism, and it’s something I think about to this day. *Why* doesn’t matter, because the *how* was wrong, and if you’re in the position to be receiving that kind of feedback, you’re probably not in a position to have a say in the why and how of the process.

          It’s been invaluable in my assessment of workplace interactions, hierarchies, and relationships as I’ve moved through my career (no longer retail). I was recently asked to provide mentoring to another young employee who’s having trouble with her approach and tone to clients and higher-ups, which surprised me. I hadn’t realized what strides I’d made as a “faking it” introvert until then. And I really credit that one piece of feedback early on.

          1. myswtghst*

            “You know, usually when I criticize you, you try to explain WHY you did X that way, and try to justify your actions. Honestly, I don’t really CARE why. I just care that you’re hearing my criticism and feedback and will do it differently next time.”

            It can be hard to hear, but I honestly think this is such a valuable thing for a manager to make clear to their employees. There certainly have been times when my bosses wanted to know why I did something the way I did, or it was reasonable for me to explain because our documentation was outdated or inaccurate, but most of the time, you have to be willing to actively listen and be sure you understand the feedback, rather than looking for ways to prove your boss wrong.

            I do training at my company for entry level roles, and I think it’s something a lot of new employees need coaching on. We have a lot of people who get hung up on “I did it this way because…” and “Fergus is just out to get me”, but completely overlook the fact that there are regulatory and compliance reasons why they need to do things a certain way, even if their way is faster/easier/etc…

    4. MadGrad*

      Honestly, I read the letter and thought that LW might have dropped the ball a little too, given that they apparently didn’t respond to a time-sensitive-query about an important task that the person clearly didn’t understand properly (sure they messed up and that’s a problem, but the spreadsheet and question imply that they did at least try) and didn’t check in to make sure it had been done. Then they went to complain about the person using language most people will accept is harsh. I can see management getting annoyed, depending on the expectations of the role.

      Also, as someone who is into semantics: I think your example makes plenty of sense, because you’re drawing a boundary by reminding someone of professional etiquette and “not appropriate” is a good way to state that. “Unacceptable” is more of a “This is terrible and something Needs To Be Done” statement, and coming from an employee about another for what seems like basic incompetence or miscommunication without a history of issues is a little intense. It’s not a heads up about an issue at that point, it’s a strong demand for something to be Done about that person.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        There’s nothing indicating that the OP dropped the ball; in many offices, the coworker would be in the wrong for emailing after-hours with a time-sensitive, urgent query rather than calling. I want to head off any blaming of the OP for this now since it’s based on speculation that we have no evidence for. Thank you.

        (And I agree with you about “inappropriate” being different from “unacceptable”; the latter is much stronger!)

        1. Czhorat*

          Someone certainly fumbled the ball. It could have been the OP in not giving sufficiently clear instruction or indication of the urgency. It could have been the Tier1 staff in not following up with someone immediately available if the urgency had been communicated. It could have been OP or either manager in not supplying an appropriate escalation procedure for the Tier1 staff to get immediate clarification.

          Urgent tasks do have to be handled as urgent with everyone knowing the expectations and procedures up front. Someone [quite likely the Tier1 staff] made a mistake. Possibly more than one someone.

          1. Sharon*

            I agree with this. In fact, my brain dismissed the LW’s actual complaint and pondered only the situation he described because I’ve seen that kind of thing happen in my work. Typically people who do some kind of irrelevant data gathering like the kind described in the post are those who don’t understand what’s being asked of them or don’t understand how to accomplish it but either can’t or won’t ask for clarification. Whoever asked that person to do the task, either his manager or the OP should have checked on them after 30 minutes or so to see if they were on the right track. I can see that happening once, but now that you know this tier 1 person is like that, going forward you know you always need to check up on him.

            1. Czhorat*

              Framing it that way might lead to being able to address process rather than attacks that come across as finger-pointing. Either there is a clear procedure for requesting Tier1 support on an urgent task AND for the Tier1 staff to get clarificatin as needed or there isn’t. If the former, then the Tier1 individual needs re-training or direction as to what to do next time. If the latter, then they might need to think of some way to handle this kind of situation in the future to keep important work from falling through the cracks.

          2. Observer*

            This is true, but not really relevant to the question. Regardless of who was at fault, the OP still has a problem here.

            Actually, the OP has multiple problems. One is that she responded inappropriately to what the Tier 1 person did. And, it’s not just semantics. This is the case, even if the entire onus of the error is on the Tier 1 person. The OP used a harsh judgement call which was not in her purview.

            The second problem is that the OP clearly does not respect her supervisor nor his authority to lay down expectations about appropriate communications and lines of authority. The fact that the OP doesn’t get that this is not just about equally valid “styles” is likely to be a long term problem.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            My point is that I don’t want people accusing the OP of being the one to fumble the ball when we have no way of knowing that’s true. That’s an unpleasant experience for letter writers and makes people disinclined to write in.

    5. hbc*

      I don’t see much difference between those words/phrases, but I also think all three of them are inappropriate to use with someone you don’t supervise. OP doesn’t get to decide whether that was an acceptable response on the part of Coworker. Yes, it’s not what the customer wanted in the timeframe they wanted, but it might have been reasonable given the skill set, experience, and understanding of Coworker.

      And I would argue that there’s a slight difference between the *client* not accepting something and just declaring work product/response unacceptable. We all know some clients have unreasonable or fickle standards–if I can’t get a package to leave my shipping department after close of business, my customer might find it unacceptable, but I won’t tell my warehouse manager that her failure to drive back and reopen the warehouse is unacceptable.

      1. Anne*

        I come from a long line of WASPs and I suspect the different connotations of the words are this is one of those coded language things like etiquette where the norms will change over time, but right now Western European culture is still the predominate work culture where we are

        1. hbc*

          But I think this is a difference that most people/cultures understand. Just like there’s a difference between saying “That idea won’t work” and “That idea is dumb.” There are very few cultures where you can get away with the latter and still have good relationships.

          I will admit that I missed the part about it just being to the employee’s manager, so it makes it a bit less of a scold, but still a pretty big overreach. The difference between “Fergus sucked” and “This outcome sucked” isn’t just a matter of nuance, I think.

        2. MK*

          I am not sure how this applies to the situation, but the issue with the word “unacceptable”, as far as I am concerned is: Is it necessary/important for the person using the word to “accept it”? If my supervisor says to me that a certain behavior or action is unacceptable, I am going to correct it; if a coworker says this, my first reaction would be “well, person-who-is-not-my-supervisor, don’t accept it if you don’t want to, but your acceptance is not all that important”.

          1. MK*

            (Posted too soon)…

            So, it’s not really appropriate to use that word, since it’s not really on you to pronounce something unacceptable.

          2. Czhorat*

            The problem is that if you don’t have the standing to “accept” or not accept something then you lack the standing to say “unacceptable”.

            It is – at the very least – an overreach.

            1. Kelly L.*

              This is what I’m thinking too. It’s not up to OP to accept or reject it, so it’s an overreach to declare it unacceptable.

        3. Observer*

          I disagree. I do NOT come from a long line of “wasps”. In fact, my parents are immigrants from Eastern Europe. This is not about “coded” or “unwritten rules”. It’s about two very different words.

      2. Agnes*

        I agree. “The client can’t accept this”/”I can’t accept this” might mean that something minor or idiosyncratic, but unfortunately necessary, is wrong. “This is unacceptable,” sounds like a judgment on the person’s entire body of work, or perhaps the universe for putting you through it.

        (So, yeah, tone – sometimes tricky. Also why writing is still an important skill!)

        1. Czhorat*

          “This is unacceptable” is, to me, what your manager says before putting a formal reprimand letter in your file. It’s THAT harsh, or close to it.

          I’ll also add that if OP2 has clashed with management on tone then it is – at leats in the manager’s eyes – an issue. If you’re going to continue working for them, you’ll need to adjust. It’s also good personal policy; you don’t want to leave a trail of anger and hurt feelings – even if your own anger is justified. If you get into the habit of approaching things more gently then people will WANT to work with you and do favors for you. If you act like this, then they’ll want to avoid you.

          1. Kinder and Gentler Manager*

            This is exactly what I was going to say. As a boss/grandboss, I would only use “unacceptable” right before I would use “and unfortunately I am going to have to fire you.” It’s that extreme. There are quite literally hundreds of other words to convey “you missed the mark” without taking that extreme. If one of my directs, or eve one of my directs’ directs told their co-worker that something they did was “unacceptable” I would be having a very serious conversation about word choice, implications and hierarchy, and future growth.

            1. Czhorat*

              I got this wrong too, but they told the Tier1’s boss. The Tier1 person was not on the email.

              This, to me, is as bad. In addition to being inappropriate, the OP has no idea what it would do to the relationship between their boss and the Tier1 boss. I’m sure you wouldn’t want your peer’s report telling you that your reports work was “unacceptable”.

              1. Kinder and Gentler Manager*

                Oooh – I totally missed that! This is still problematic for an entirely new set of reasons, I think.

              2. OhNo*

                Yeah, I would agree that it’s just as bad. Then not only are you overstepping your position by decreeing that someone was “unacceptable”, it seems like you’re telling the manager how to do their job. Like many others here, “unacceptable” is a word I expect to hear right before a firing/PIP. If the OP doesn’t have the standing to tell the manager to fire the tier 1 employee, then they shouldn’t have used it in the email.

                That said, it’s a fine line between what would have been appropriate and what was actually written. In some offices I’ve worked in, “not acceptable” would have been an okay phrase in this situation, but “unacceptable” wouldn’t be, so I can see how the OP might have trouble.

              3. kb*

                It also could be read as an insult to Tier 1 Boss, like they don’t know how to manage their team.

            2. OP2*

              OP2 here. The managers cannot speak to their reports’ technical skills. They have no context and most of them are not technical people. A part of my (and any tier 2 rep’s) job is provide coaching and mentoring on the technical parts of the job to the manager, including context so they can understand what is a minor concern and what is major. Otherwise, they grade the rep solely on their attitude which is important, but this is overall a technical role. Attitude alone can’t judge how effective an employee is.

              This is standard for my role and the managers expect it. All the tier 2 reps take cases from tier 1 so we have a good working idea of each rep’s technical skill — we know what they can and can’t fix on their own based on what they escalate. So in this case, from past work, I know the tier 1 person was capable of completing the project without much issue.

              This is the first time I’ve called someone’s work unacceptable. Here’s a little more info on the situation:

              We had a very sensitive client on a very new product, ready to cancel because of the number of defects they’ve encountered. That info was presented to the manager when asking for someone to go in and do the manual fix. The tier 1 person was also told the client was escalated. I had to leave at a set time for a family reason, but my two other tier 2 team members were there for two hours for questions after I left. The person was not alone on an island, and all the tier 2 folks and managers have my cell if they needed it. But the person didn’t ask any questions — he spent 20 minutes adding things to my spreadsheet and then sent an email back to me. He didn’t treat it with urgency, which was strike #1.

              The manual fix itself is a very basic thing — click three times, done. Repeat x150. We could have someone with two weeks’ experience do this. When I grabbed another tier 1 person the next morning to have them do it, there was one quick question and then they did it within an hour. The original person had two hours to ask questions and complete the task, and did not. Hence “unacceptable” in my email — another person in the same role completed it quickly, and with his 2+ years on the job it wasn’t a question of knowing how to do the task. It was (IMO, knowing the rep and what he’s normally capable of) a willful ignorance of how important the task was and not wanting to settle into it before he left for the day.

              Regarding the tone coaching — that’s kind of a longer history. Two years ago my then-manager (same department) said my emails to the department were abrupt/rude/bitchy. So I started having my male co-workers (I’m female) send them out. Never did our manager correct their tone or word choices or call them bitchy, and after about 8 months we said screw it and I went back to sending my own emails to the department. Around that time my manager changed, and I told new-manager that story. He said he would be sure to let me know if he felt I had any areas of improvement. New-manager was someone I’d worked with for a while (but had never reported to) and I was excited at the change, and comfortable sharing that frustration with the previous manager. In practice, the tone-coaching is much worse but again, if I have a male co-worker send the email they get no feedback… It’s incredibly hard for me to know if it’s me or how they see me, and is a constant source of frustration at this point.

              1. Czhorat*

                Thanks for chiming in. I’m sure it feels like a bit of a pile-on here, and I’m sorry for that.

                Differing male/female expectations are a big issue in business communications, and I’m very, very sorry to see that affecting you. That said, it does seem that there might be an issue. As some people pointed out, the tone in your post here is harsh enough to raise an eyebrow, at the very least.

                You might want to soften the language next time, even if you are right [which you appear to be in this case]. Being right in the wrong way is sometimes just another way of being wrong.

                1. OP2*

                  Very true. I do think had I waited a bit before sending I’d have used a different word — not out of any personal change, but being more conscious of how my manager views these things and me. I just couldn’t get over that he jumped right into word choice with me rather than any other aspect of this overall escalation.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Thanks for this additional context. I can certainly see why you thought the person’s actions were unacceptable. I do think, though, that’s it’s still an excessively harsh word to use, and that your manager’s feedback on it wasn’t wrong.

                That said, in a context with the gendered feedback you’ve described, I can see why you’re frustrated, and it does take on a different flavor. Have you told your boss that you think he’s giving you gendered feedback on tone, and that if you have male coworkers send the exact same email, they get no feedback? I think that’s worth point out, separately from this incident.

                1. OP2*

                  I think I am going to try that in my next bi-weekly with him. It makes me incredibly anxious, but it could definitely help. I don’t think he does it on purpose — he’s a delightful guy — but I should be able to get through a work day without so much anxiety in general.

                  Thank you for your advice.

              3. kb*

                Thanks for your clarification, OP. The tier aspect had me confused. Knowing that the tier 1 boss doesn’t have the technical knowledge you do clarifies why you used the term unacceptable, but I still think it comes across as a bit harsh.
                As a blunt woman, I feel for you in this situation. It’s extremely frustrating because I know some some criticism is merited, but I’m also aware there’s certainly gendered components at play ans I can’t tell what’s what.

              4. Elizabeth H.*

                This is how I read the situation originally btw so it’s not like you came across overly harsh to *everyone*! I can understand the POV that unacceptable is a really strong word to use about a specific person but it does sound honestly unacceptable to me, and also like the actual issue was a bigger deal than your description of it (this should be obvious) so understandably frustrating.

                1. Trix*

                  I agree on all counts. I think I read the initial email just the way it was intended, and I’ve dealt with similar feedback regarding my “tone” over the years. Just yesterday my boss told me that someone visiting from our other office asked him “Is Trix always that mean?” I’m not super happy bubbly person, and I’m rather serious at work (especially till I get to know someone), but I’m certainly not mean.

                  There are some great suggestions for wording throughout the comments that still get the fact that this really was unacceptable across while using less harsh language. I’ll be bookmarking several of these for myself. I don’t know if we’re right, OP, but know that you’re not alone.

                2. Confused Again*

                  Stepping in to say I agree now I have all the information.

                  Admittedly, when I first read the letter, I thought it was a bit harsh – but then I realised it was because I was assuming the Tier 1 was some poor guy who had had the situation badly explained to him, hadn’t realise it was truly urgent, hadn’t realised he should be calling you if he had any queries etc. To be honest, think that, I was mad at you, OP2.

                  Well, now I know it’s somebody who probably understood the urgency and seemed to be messing around with box ticking because they didn’t want to do a big task at the end of the day and knew what normal procedure was for getting hold of people for questions when things were urgent, well, now I’m mad at them!!

                  That being said, I think unacceptable levied at them is still quite harsh in an email, because the tone gets lost – by which I mean, it could be read as “Hey, just so you know, this sort of behaviour is felt to be unacceptable” or it could be read as “You unacceptable screw up! Why are you still here?!?”. I think it might be better to flip it to “This solution is unacceptable to the client” which takes a bit of the emotion out of it but still stresses the seriousness – they know this sort of action doesn’t fly, but they are also left thinking it doesn’t fly because of the client’s expectations, not because their work or they are unacceptable, which is a harder pill to swallow.

              5. Wheezy Weasel*

                I can empathize with this situation, having worked in a similar Tier 2/1 relationship as you describe further here. The ‘right’ way to move forward on this ticket was for the Tier 1 to ask for additional information from the available resources if they were stuck, and they didn’t do that. It’s even more important because the issue was flagged as needing immediate action. While it’s true that this isn’t the best way for them to have proceeded, it’s not really your call to give them that feedback. You can let their manager know ‘due to Tier 1 A not being able to complete these tasks as specified, the client experienced further delay. Tier 1 B was able to do this in a short period of time with the same instructions’ and just leave it for them to sort out.

              6. Observer*

                You probably are getting more pushback than you should. But from what you say, it doesn’t sound like it’s just about gender. It could also be that your male peers can get away with the same emails because they are essentially outliers, while in your case it’s part of an ongoing pattern.

                From your description, it sounds like your Tier 1 person totally messed up. No doubt about that. But, would it have hurt for you to describe what happened – much like you did here, emphasizing that your client is ready to walk and that someone else with less experience was able to do this in an hour? That would have gotten the point across without any issues about tone.

                In short, I think you have a valid complaint about the Tier 1 person’s behavior, but made a judgement call that was not yours to make, although I would hope that his manager would make it.

    6. Green Goose*

      I had a manager that could be very, very terse and harsh in emails to myself and other staff. I eventually got used to their brusque way of speaking and eventually it didn’t faze me but occasionally one of the newer coworkers would pull me aside about an abrupt email or phone conversation that they had had with my manager, which left them a bit jarred.

      I think an important thing to remember is that not everyone will receive a direct and harsh email well which sometimes requires extra time spent trying to tie together a sugar-coated email when someone you work with screws up. At my job I have a lot of overlap work with other departments, and I have to deal with a lot of mess-ups that impact my own work. The people are at the same level as me, so even though I would be tempted to say “unacceptable” I don’t. On the flip side though, I’ve made mistakes too and the same people are forgiving and accommodating just like I’ve been with them. In both situations, both of us would have been “right” to point out the error in a harsh tone but it would not have positively changed our working environment in the long run.

      1. tigerStripes*

        I’ve found that adopting something of a Spock voice in e-mail or maybe a “just the facts” tone, maybe a little gentler than both, but very factual, seems to work well for me. Not sure if that will help, and it has to be very frustrating that your male co-workers don’t get criticized for the same tone.

    7. Jaguar*

      When a co-worker is combative or difficult to work with, I typically try and joke it off with them and diffuse their hostility. If they still act that way, I just circumvent them for any future work. I’ve seen plenty of other people act that way as well.

      Being combative or a jerk does have consequences.

  6. Dizzy Steinway*

    #1 I know some posters disagree with comments asking for more info or saying it would be helpful to know more but I’m really curious about why you particularly want this coworker to have the raise – as I’m wondering if it’s because their work is not being recognised or you’re concerned about their welfare.

    Whatever the reason, I think it’s really lovely that you thought of this and asked Alison about it.

    1. SophieChotek*

      I agree it is lovely you think of it.
      also (do you know what this other person makes?) Maybe they already make something close to what you make. I still think the sentiment is lovely and agree with AAM – if you want to recognize them/share some of you wealth — a gift card etc. might be a way to do that. (Yes, then they’ll probably know it’s coming from you.)

      I guess if you are concerned about feeling like it is “charity” — i.e. maybe you know something about their financial situation and that is why you want them to get the raise via the company…I especially see where you are coming from but still agree with AAM.

      Plus you don’t want to sell yourself short — that raise will be good for your job history/salary history, especially if you go on to another hourly job where your staring pay might be based on what you made/your history of raises, at previous hourly job..

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I think the reason matters, because it determines the best approach.

      If the coworker is undervalued and working hard, then the *company* should be paying them more, it doesn’t mean the OP should be paid less. If the OP truly feels the coworker works harder and is more responsible than they are, they could tell their management that, but wages are really up to the management’s discretion.

      If the coworker is in need, the OP really shouldn’t make it a wage issue, they should try to help them as a concerned friend/acquaintance. A grocery gift card or information about LIHEAP and/or food pantry programs that you have already checked out for them could be very helpful…and if that seems presumptuous, it’s no more so than giving someone money out of your paycheck. More likely they could benefit from some of your time; babysitting if they have kids, or maybe fixing up things at home if you’re handy. These are just suggestions, it’s all very context-dependent.

    3. Sharon*

      I don’t know if it’s the same situation for the LW but I have been in situations where I was rewarded for a miniscule portion of work on a very visible project while coworkers who did the majority of the work went unrecognized. I always hate when that happens because it’s so unfair (even though I’m the one benefiting from it).

  7. Dizzy Steinway*

    #3 I think I’d be hesitant to say you can’t talk about it at work because I have an image in my head of someone waiting outside and saying: “Right, now that you’ve clocked off I can sell you saucepans/convert you to my religion/etc.” I’d maybe word it as “with clients”. Or not even explain that much. I think the key thing is to redirect them to the reason they’re there.

    Actually I can’t talk about that – but I can talk about fixing your teapot.
    I’m not able to talk about that. We’ve got 20 minutes to get this teapot fixed so let’s focus on that.
    I did just want to let you know that I’m not able to buy these – we’ve got 20 minutes, shall we see if we can get this teapot fixed?

    Also, use the broken record technique. Same answer. every. time.

    1. Zombii*

      Yeah, definitely say “with clients” and not “at work.”

      This happened to me when I was working at a pizza place in my teens. The weird guy hanging out in the parking lot after closing trying to sell me on his god was more unnerving than the drug dealer who occasionally showed up—and the drug dealer was easier to decline: just a simple “No thanks.”

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I want you to know I really appreciate this comment. Sincerely, not snark. I am a church going person, I have always felt that if people are interested they will ask me. There is no need on my part to start a discussion. Matter of fact, harping on religion drives people away. Getting this point across to other people has been challenging for me. I will share your story because I think it packs a punch. I will say, “Even the drug dealer knows what ‘no, thanks’ means.”

        1. tigerStripes*

          I’m a Christian, and I try to live my life being a kind and hard-working person, and I don’t normally talk about my faith unless I’m asked. I don’t like it when people try to pressure me into things; I don’t want to do that to other people.

  8. LabHeather*

    At #4

    I just wanted to make a comment about Alison’s experience that a 3 year old reference letter might be out of date, just because academia is so different from everything else. I very recently applied for (and got!) a phd position after having been out of academia for three years between my Msc and this phd. The only letter of reference I had was from a summer intership position because I was writing my Msc for that particular research organisation.

    Not only was the hiring board disinterested in calling my current manager (also in academia, though an administrative position), but the only one of my references they called outside their university was a senior researcher who had been my boss during the summer internship four years prior.

  9. Oscar Madisoy*

    In response to 3. Setting boundaries with clients who proselytize or try to sell things.

    I’m reminded of the scene in Forrest Gump where someone asks Gump if he’s found Jesus.

    “I didn’t know I was supposed to be out looking for him.”

      1. Aunt Margie at Work*

        I’ve never heard that one before. Or if you came up with it…whatever. Brilliant.

  10. CoffeeLover*

    #4 My husband was dealing with something sort of similar when he was applying for his first post-uni jobs. He’s from Sweden and one of his profs provided a reference letter in Swedish. The prof also translated that letter and provided an English version. The problem: his translation was bad… really bad. He even translated the name of the program into something unrecognizable in English. I’m not sure what hubby actually decided to do in the end, but I thought it wouldn’t be a big faux pas to provide the Swedish version and then to re-translate the English version himself. He was applying to jobs in Sweden, but most companies require English application documents since some employees don’t speak Swedish. Because he would include the original Swedish version, they could easily verify the intent of the letter is the same in the English version. Thoughts?

    1. Callalily*

      I would say it may be beneficial to pay for a one-time professional translation that can be attached to the letter. That way there will be less perception that he may have altered anything in translation.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        If it’s a specialized field, it’s likely that a general translator wouldn’t be much help. A general translator would likely translate terms of the art literally instead of to their equivalent industry-understood terms.

        We ran into this trying to update safety documentation for a new market.

      2. CoffeeLover*

        I think this would be the case if he were applying to jobs outside of Sweden. Most people speak both Swedish and English and could tell pretty quickly if a letter was mistranslated.

    2. Mirax*

      I’m still in grad school, but I’ve never been in a situation where it was considered acceptable for me to even see the letter–for every program, workshop, etc I’ve applied for, I had to provide the original letter in a sealed envelope. I only know the contents of one letter I’ve ever had, out of about twenty, and that’s because of a paperwork mixup on the program’s side where they gave it to me.

      When I worked at a scholarship fund, I was sometimes tasked with translating or verifying foreign-language letters of recommendation. In general we did not trust any translation provided by the applicant and I’d still be double-checking it anyway. If someone offered to translate it themselves, we always said no, because it would betray the confidentiality of the letter.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        I guess the biggest difference in my mind is that he was apply to jobs in Sweden where most people can speak Swedish and English and can tell pretty quickly if a letter was mistranslated. I think if he was apply for jobs in Canada for example, then an official translation would be the way to go.

        I also think academia has much stricter guidelines for stuff like this in general. My husband was applying to jobs outside of academia. In Sweden, I guess it’s common to use letters of reference from your profs for your first job after graduating since most people don’t have a lot of real experience. In Canada, these letters would be pretty close to useless in a job hunt anyway.

        1. another person*

          When I applied for grad school (5 years ago) all the letters of recommendation were submitted electronically.[ Really, even when I applied for undergrad, everything was electronic (although I think then they did have options to send in paper letters if possible).] I don’t even think there was an option to submit a paper version.

      2. LabHeather*

        Wait, you have to provide a new, sealed and signed letter of recommendation with every program/workshop/job you have applied to?

        I can just imagine my reference’s reaction if I even suggested such a thing. Just getting *one* LOR was like getting water from a stone and took several months of nudging. One per application? They would laugh at me and point to their calendars. How can this massive time-drain for the supervisors/references be sustainable?

        I have one LOR (“To whom it may concern”) signed and in pdf format from a previous supervisor, listing projects I was included in and methods I used. I never even saw the original. It probably went through the shredder several years ago.

        1. CanCan*

          Same with me, when I applied to grad schools – in US and Canada. Reference letters (from profs) had to be sealed and sent directly to the schools. Might have been the same with medical schools later on.

          For jobs, of course the letters just said To whom it may concern. Two of my employers asked me to write the letters myself, and they just signed them. They did have an option to revise it, and one made a couple of modifications. Another boss wrote the letter himself, but he asked me if it was ok, so I could ask for changes if I wanted to (e.g. add projects I worked on, or make it lean more towards a certain type of work).

          1. TL -*

            Now, most of them use electronic systems (and the prof usually writes one letter and sends it to all of the schools, unless she knows a school really well; she might personalize a letter a little for that school.)

        2. OhNo*

          Yeah, I remember a couple of grad programs requiring that. A new letter, mailed straight from the professor at their college address, sealed with a signature over it. It was a HUGE pain for the professors, and they definitely let me know it.

          I much preferred the references they could fill out online. They get an email with a link, and then have the option of filling out answers to specific questions, or uploading a pre-written letter as a PDF. Much less time consuming, and I didn’t have to panic about something getting sent by an appropriate date, or getting lost in the mail.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, I take it back–we do allow submission of print letters, but we strongly prefer them to be submitted electronically through our system or emailed.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          -In the US most jobs don’t require a letter of recommendation, only academic programs/workshops etc. do (things where the letter of rec is supposed to come from someone in the field of academia, where it’s a component part of the job to write such letters)
          -letters of rec are usually submitted via PDF/email directly from the professor, a lot of time an app system will make the professor fill out a dumb radio button survey about the applicant too
          -back in the day before email and PDFs, it was a lot more normal to send mail here there and everywhere all the time so this type of thing wasn’t as unusual of a request.

    3. Marillenbaum*

      Also, you can get a certified translation; when I worked in university admissions, that’s what we required, because it standardized the process for non-native English speaking applicants.

  11. Czhorat*

    OP2 – Finally, one where we CAN discuss language.

    “Unacceptable” comes across as very harsh and authoritarian. It’s not typical language between peers, and is really not a great choice from a manager unless behaviour is especially egregious. It’s also language which shuts discussion down rather than open it up. You can make the same point – or guide someone to the same point – more gently. And yes, you were wrong. Even if you were right in the particulars, you were wrong in your word choice and gave the Tier 1 staff member a legitimate complaint about wokring with you. It’s the kind of communication which makes other departments unhappy about supporting you.

    A better answer might have been, “The client is very, very unhappy about this. We need to do [exact instructions, X,Y,Z] as soon as possible to salvage the relationship.”

    Something along those lines. You can copy their boss and yours if you need to. If you feel a need to address the exact issue, you can add something like, “the spreadsheet does not address the needs. Please reach out to Tier2 for help if any of this is unclear.”

    I understand that you’re angry about the situation and about the quality of the deiverables you got from your Tier1 colleague. That doesn’t make it any more appropriate to use overly harsh and attacking language. You should be looking to solve the problem, not to lash out at the person who caused it.

    1. Myrin*

      I don’t have anything of substance to add but I do want to point out something that I believe you and some other commenters have missed: The email containing the “unacceptable” wording was addressed to the other employee’s manager and OP’s own supervisor, not the employee himself.

      1. Czhorat*

        Fair point, Myrin, and thank you for the correction.

        The larger point remains; this is not appropriate language. Assuming that OP’s boss and the Tier1 manager are peers, then OP’s boss could have said that it was “unacceptable”. They probably wouldn’t unless it was an ongoing pattern which needed to be addressed that strongly. From the Tier1 manager’s point of view, their report was given a task, failed to complete it correctly, and now they were being given a dressing-down from someone beneath them on the org chart. That isn’t how things usually work.

        This level of harhsness can also complicate the relationship between OP’s boss and the Tier-1 boss. Office politics are also something to consider in the tone of ones internal communication.

        1. Myrin*

          Oh, I completely agree! I just wanted to point it out since I saw other comments upthread reading it the same way.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I almost feel like that makes it even worse of a word choice because LW is taking people above her to task and s/he really doesn’t have the standing to do that.

        It sounds to me like one of two things happened: either the instructions to the Tier 1 person weren’t clear and they didn’t understand what they were supposed to do or the manager asked to assign an additional resource to this project made a poor choice because this person wasn’t competent enough to do what was asked.

        1. Czhorat*

          Or the Tier1 person legitimately messed up and failed to follow through as they should.

          I agree with you; I don’t think the OP meant it this way, but it can very easily be read as giving their boss’s peer a dressing-down for the behaviour of the Tier1 person. If absolutely nothing else, it ignores potential office political repercussions.

      3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        But it still comes off as if OP2 is placing himself in the position of evaluating the coworker’s performance and judging it unacceptable, and he’s not. He doesn’t have the standing.

        1. Myrin*

          I didn’t say that he does; my comment was just meant to clear up this one detail that some commenters seem to have missed reading the letter. I’m in full agreement with Czhorat et al.

        2. K*

          He’s entitled to his opinion. I would characterize “unacceptable” as authoritative, not authoritarian.
          Although reading someone’s use of “unacceptable” and then needing to smack them down back into their place for it most certainly reeks of an authoritarian attitude.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      I agree, and this makes me curious about the other instances of this manager quibbling with OP’s wording. It’s possible that the manager is trying to get OP to phrase things in a more collaborative way to protect professional relationships. If that’s the case, OP certainly wouldn’t be the first task-oriented IT type to lean toward communication that’s accurate but not great for relationships. If the colleague’s issue truly is unacceptable, OP (and many others) might have trouble intuiting why it’s not OK to call it that.

      It’s also possible that OP’s boss is just annoying and this is the only instance of a valid criticism of his communication style. But it’s probably worth examining.

      1. Observer*

        By the way, the idea that this kind of communications is more accurate really is not correct, most of the time. For instance “Tier 1 did x instead of y, and the result is that client’s problem is not resolved. Client is very angry.” This is perfectly accurate and clear, without any judgement at all.

        If you *really* want to be accurate in this case, what the OP perhaps knows is that the Tier 1 person’s actions created an unacceptable result because it upset an already legitimately upset customer. What he doesn’t actually know is that the person’s way of dealing with it was actually “unacceptable” because the OP doesn’t know why that person did that and what they have been told in the past.

        1. tigerStripes*

          I like your suggestion, Observer. Very factual, gets the point across, and yet would be difficult for anyone to be offended by or take exception to – even if the tier 1 person saw it, what could he say?

    3. Squeeble*

      I think your last sentence is exactly what bothers me about the OP’s email. It’s not particularly constructive, and probably heightens any potential conflict rather than seeking to solve a problem.

  12. Chez*

    Oh OP#2, I feel your pain. I once had something similar happen. One of my staff used the word “exhaustive” to describe the process they used to do something. My boss took that to mean they was complaining about it, and I couldn’t convince them otherwise. My employee quit shortly thereafter, and I don’t blame them a bit. Things went really south from there.

    1. Czhorat*

      That example is different – you’re describing a manager who literally doesn’t know what a word means and makes a judgement based on his erroneous understanding. The OP legitimately overstepped in terms of tone towards someone who is not a direct report.

      1. Chez*

        I definitely agree with you there. I have suffered from an abundance of brevity in my written communication throughout my career. On more than one occasion I have been accused of having a “tone” in my email. For what it’s worth, I am a woman, and I suspect that might be part of it. I may have brought that baggage to the reading.

        1. Czhorat*

          An abundance of brevity? You should let me edit your emails. One of my most recent managers once referred to me as “the most verbose man he’s ever met”.

          1. the gold digger*

            I am not verbose at work. My boss, who is not a native English speaker, in the context of a conversation about the nice work I was doing, told me I was “verbose.”

            I had to tell him that was not a compliment.

        2. OP2*

          As OP2 – your baggage fits, as I am female as well. I replied with more on that above in another comment thread.

      1. Chez*

        Oh, connotations aren’t in the dictionary, so it didn’t matter what the word *actually* meant. You can probably imagine the eggshells I walked on after that.

        1. Czhorat*

          Yes, but this is a case in which the manager is clearly wrong. There are no negative connotations with “exhaustive”. There are in this context with “unacceptable”.

          Your answer might be “reduce the level of your vocabulary”. I remember once stating that a certain set of tasks needed to be done “with alacrity” and got a chorus of blank looks as a response. It was a reminder that not everyone has the largest vocabulary, and one needs to adjust for the audience.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Oh god. I use the word “hieroglyphics” to describe the way a digital display was messed up. I got screamed at, “Stop talking over my head!”, by my boss at that time.
            Head to desk.
            Know your audience, know your audience.

      2. Temperance*

        In my experience, people who are not intelligent will often double down when confronted with their lack of intelligence. The manager might not have a great vocabulary (or an EXHAUSTIVE one), but he has the power to make that employee’s life hell at work, goshdarnit.

      3. Tomato Frog*

        In my boss’s case, by citing a hypothetical source that surely exists somewhere!

        My boss was insisting on a specific definition for a word that we use a ton at our job. I was willing to believe it, but I couldn’t find anything to support her definition in dictionaries or in a glossary for our field. So I asked her if she could point me towards any resources where they give that definition. She said, “I’m sure I could, but that’s just how we use it.”

  13. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#2, Generally the manager decides what’s acceptable and unacceptable. Evaluating work output is a big part of their job. As a non-manager, you can describe the impact the other employee had on your ability to do your job, and then ask your manager for guidance or additional resources. Calling things acceptable or unacceptable takes authority, which you lack in this situation.

  14. Temperance*

    LW3: Can you set a policy to discontinue the free services that you’re providing if a person keeps pushing religion/trying to sell stuff? I realize that it’s harsh, but it’s really not okay to try and convert someone just because they’re a captive audience. Same with selling stuff.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I would think nonprofits wouldn’t allow someone who meets their (usually financial) mission/guidelines to be denied services absent something much more serious, like a credible threat of violence, because it might be perceived as bias.

      1. Temperance*

        That’s completely fair. I was approaching it from the perspective of allocating limited resources in a way that makes the lives of already overextended nonprofit workers a little easier.

        I’ve declined to pursue a relationship with a nonprofit that is “open” to working with non-Christians, but they pair you with a Christian so you can pray with your client, and was comparing this to that.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*



          If you’re willing to name names, I’d love to make sure that I’m not contributing to an organization like that. (Completely understandable if you wouldn’t want to do that, of course.)

          1. Temperance*

            I can’t name names, but I will say that the org is openly religious and has Jesus references in the title, so there’s very little chance you would contribute without knowing their mission. ;)

            1. Observer*

              I don’t blame you for not pursuing a relationship. But, it’s one of the very, very few situations where something like this is appropriate (assuming they don’t get public money, of course.) And, even there, there are limits (eg don’t try this on the service people who come into your organization to do whatever work you have contracted with from their employers.)

  15. MicroManagered*

    Re OP#2 I personally agree that the word “unacceptable” might be a tad harsh for someone you don’t supervise, but it sounds like the larger issue here might be that the manager is equally nitpicky about word choices that don’t matter, so now it seems like more of the same vs. a legitimate issue with OP’s word choice.

    I had a manager once who wanted everyone to say “I apologize” rather than “I’m sorry” in email communications with clients (among other word-choice complaints). She was REALLY attached to that wording and would nitpick any time she saw an email with the word “sorry” vs. “apologize.” She refused to consider the fact that, with some of our clients, that seemed like an awkward tone-switch, which actually put clients off. Rather than trusting our judgment, she harped on word choices that didn’t matter. As a result, EVERYTHING she picked out like that seemed irrelevant or wrong. The morale of the team quickly broke down (over many factors, including stuff like that). From what I heard after I left, she systematically lost everyone else on the team and isn’t even in a manager role anymore!

    1. Czhorat*

      TO be fair, we don’t know if the manager is “nitpicky” or has legitimate concerns. THat the OP thinks “this is unacceptable” is an appropriate thing to say in an email to their boss’s peer hints to be that there might be something here. The ability to watch ones tone in written communication is important.

      As I said earlier, this is a very harsh word-choice given the relative places in the organization of the sender and recipient.

      The OP can’t really control their boss; they CAN control their language. Softening the tone won’t hurt, and quite possibly may help.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I definitely wasn’t disputing that “unacceptable” was a poor choice of words for the OP. We agree there. I was saying perhaps OP’s dismissal of it has to do with a pattern in the manager. I think we’re both speculating either way: whether the manager does or doesn’t have a pattern of that behavior.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      Definitely a possibility. OP is wrong in this instance, but it may be difficult to tell what’s useful feedback and what’s nitpicking if the manager is gung-ho about things that really don’t matter. So I hope the OP will be self-aware enough to evaluate some past run-ins with this manager and see if there’s an ongoing issue with overly harsh wording. We really can’t tell from the outside.

      And yeah, “I apologize” always sounds less sincere to me for whatever reason. Like you’re apologizing out of obligation but you don’t actually feel sorry. That’s probably a silly distinction on my part, but lots of people have weird individual preferences that they somehow believe are The Rules of Etiquette and Language.

    3. MuseumChick*

      This could be the case. But it could also be the case that the OP’s boss is trying to coach her on tone. Even in her letter here she uses what IMO is overly harsh language (“useless”). So, it could be a nit-picky boss or it could be that the OP tends towards a harsh tone that her manager wants to reduce.

  16. Lady Blerd*

    LW5, I live in a winter city and here it is not uncommon for some people to stay in their winter boots all day long. If there is a blizzard on the day you do your interview, you won’t be looked at sideways for keeping your boots on, at least not where I live so I wouldn’t worry about it. In a city like NYC (not saying that’s where you live), where winters are milder and people tend to defy winter conditions, I could make a joke about keeping your boots on but otherwise, don’t sweat it.

  17. Maria Hill*

    OP #2, I’#m a little concerned that this line – “My manager has a habit of trying to correct my word choice and tone in emails I send.” – implies a pattern of previous problems.

    Is it possible that both of you are overreacting? If there’s a history of disagreements over what’s appropriate, then you may both have brought baggage to this particular conversation.

    Also, have you considered the possibility that, if your previous disagreements were mostly about word choices that could be seen as blunt, aggressive, harsh, or insulting, your style might be a problem at work? If your boss has been getting complaints that you’ve been upsetting people, he could be trying to help you improve your communication style. (Ignore this if it’s more about, say, personal choices like formality vs. informality or plain english vs technical terms.)

    That said… Your manager is your boss. You may not like his style, but if he wants to, he gets to set the style for his employees because he’s the manager. If he wants you to change your tone and word choice in emails, you may need to change your tone and word choice. Tone can be a legitimate part of your job requirements.

    Sure, you might be able to win this argument. You might also lose your pay rise/promotion/job over it, especially if your boss sees it as unprofessional or insubordinate, or if you’re undermining his authority in front of others at your workplace. So, really – is this a hill you want to die on?

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      What it implies to me is that OP has a tendency to use harsh, authoritarian language, and the boss has been trying unsuccessfully to school him on tone.

  18. Temperance*

    LW1: this is very kind of you, but definitely don’t do this. You earned that raise. If you think a colleague also deserves recognition, you can maybe help them get it. Also, on another level, by trying to shift your raise to another coworker, you’re signalling to your boss that you don’t trust his/her decisions.

    1. Seal*

      Agreed, especially with the second part of this. I had an employee who thought one of his part-time reports deserved a raise. Rather than bring this to my attention, he went to my manager (his former boss) and offered to pay his employee out of his own pocket because he didn’t think I’d agree to it. Fortunately my boss told that what he was suggesting wasn’t allowed and that he need to talk to me rather than her. As it turned out, all of our part-time employees were getting raises anyway, something he would have known had he come to me directly. This came on the heels of a few other incidents where he got upset about a few decisions I had made with my boss’s support, so finding out that he was resorting to doing attempted end runs around me to try to get his way was the beginning of the end for him.

  19. Sibley*

    #3 – Ugh. I really, really, really do not like people who are trying to convert me to their religion or won’t quit selling stuff. If your religion can’t thrive without harassing people to get them to convert, then it’s a bad religion. I also don’t like it that the groups that are trying to get you to convert are also the groups that I have the biggest problems with based on their words/behaviors/policies.

    Selling stuff is also annoying, but not quite as bad as trying to convert people.

  20. sometimeswhy*

    OP5: I recently performed interviews during torrential rains. The candidates split roughly evenly into quarters of those (1) wearing galoshes and carrying their rain gear, (2) carrying galoshes and rain gear and wearing shoes they’d changed into, (3) who had apparently teleported (or more likely left rain gear in the testing room) (4) were wet. A handful of them made a quick, “Apologies for the attire. It’s really coming down out there, isn’t it? It’s nice to meet you; thanks for having me.” statements. None of them stood out more than the others for their dampness or lack thereof but the quick statement + pivot was nice.

    1. Trig*

      Galoshes! I wondered if someone would bring them up.

      I don’t think they’re very common in my area. I’ve never used them, as I’ve had the good fortune of not needing to look fancy in the winter (I tend to tromp around in my snow boots but keep a few pairs of nicer shoes under my desk) but I imagine they’d be uncommonly useful for this type of situation, provided they’re easier to take off than a pair of shoes. Though if the slush/snow is a bit deeper, gaiters might be needed too to keep the salt and mess off of pants.

      Oh the lengths we go to!

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Galoshes are magical and wonderful. I went to college in a place that got torrential rains in spring and fall, and we would all delight in buying fun, colorful galoshes to stave off the wet.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “None of them stood out more than the others for their dampness or lack thereof ”

      OP, don’t work for an employer who reduces your skills and abilities down to the dryness of your attire.

  21. Bea*

    I drove in an ice storm and had to walk in slushy snow the next say for my interviews. Everyone was expecting me to cancel, showing up in appropriate shoes for the weather was not an issue since I got job offers for most of my interviews.

    I can’t imagine anyone holding it against you.

  22. ilikeaskamanager*

    #2 I too needed some coaching on tone at one point in my career. My colleague had totally messed up something that created a real problem. I didn’t manage the person, but I had to explain to my manager why the client was so upset. I did a lot of the “this was unacceptable” too.

    The boss made these suggestions to me. Focus on what actually happened and what the result was. He suggested that I explain what I asked the person to do, what the person actually did, and what the result was, and where we stand now with the client. And then ask the manager, what is the next step here?

    Then, let the manager decide how to label or categorize the employee’s performance and how to hold them accountable.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”

      “So after my coworker got done pounding his fists on the desk , he got up and stomped around the room for about 15 minutes. We tried to ask him if we could help him some how, then he started screaming at us.”

      OP, notice how I have not put any opinion or editorial comment here. Yet, you can still clearly see that my imaginary coworker’s behavior was way over the top. I don’t need to say my coworker’s behavior was over the top, because my description already shows the behavior was over the top. All I did was give the facts of the situation.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        So here’s a piece of actual documentation of an incident between my direct report and another staff member (names have been changed). I think it is mostly just the facts, but there’s also some description in there, too:

        In preparation for doctoral students’ comp exams, Wakeen had checked out several computers from the Tech Center and placed them at the rear of his work area. Jane saw the computers and it occurred to her to ask whether Wakeen had checked out separate mouses and keyboards for each laptop, so that the students would have a more comfortable computer set-up for the lengthy exams.

        Wakeen seemed to take her inquiry as an aspersion on his preparedness, and he became offended. He called the Tech Center in a huff (i.e. instead of going to the phone calmly and picking it up normally, he stomped to the phone and snatched it up and jabbed the number for the tech center) and made the request in a petulant way, “I guess now they want mice and keyboards.” Then he huffed and stomped to the door on his way to the Tech Center, and on his way out he made a snarky comment under his breath about how he “should have been told [about the need for mouses and keyboards] before”.

        When Wakeen returned, I addressed his behavior (the huffing, slamming, stomping, and the snarky comment) and told him that he can’t behave that way in the office. I phrased it as, “you can’t make overt displays of frustration” in the office, and he answered, “Well, I am frustrated!” I tried to explain to him that he can’t always display the way he feels and that, regardless of what he might be feeling, he needs to find a way to behave appropriately. He said that he can’t be expected to be a robot, and I said that no one expects that of him, but that he can’t be openly hostile. He said he didn’t understand the difference between other people expressing frustration and him expressing frustration. I told him that the difference is that other people typically are expressing frustration to one another about a situation, whereas he is expressing frustration at other people.

        He said that “it’s too late now to change what I said, so I don’t understand what I can do about it now. What do you want from me?” I told him that, “I just want you not to do it again,” and he agreed.

  23. Mimmy*

    #3 – In some fields, doing business with clients that you’re providing services to is considered unethical. I’m in social work – if I were to let a client sell something to me, I’d possibly lose my license.

    I don’t know whether the proselytizing is also considered unethical, but it definitely crosses boundaries in my book. Redirecting is probably the best strategy for this.

  24. Sibley*

    #3 – ugh. I really, really, really don’t like when people try to change your religion or do a hard sell. I will hang up on them, close the door in their face, turn around and walk away, etc. I don’t care how rude it is – they were rude first.

    I find it especially annoying that the religious groups that are most likely to try to convert are also the groups I have the most philosophical problems with. You want more followers? Try being nicer to people, and get out of the Dark Ages.

    1. Rebecca*

      I was doing yard work on a hot summer day, and was approached in my yard by a religious group known for going door to door (men in white shirts, black pants, and satchels). I simply told them I was not going to convert, that I am a member of X denomination, and that was the end of it. I also told them they were welcome to follow me around as I did my work, but I wasn’t going to discuss it further. They’ve left me alone for years now. And yes, it is annoying.

      1. Robin B*

        Had one of those visits also, I was stooping pulling weeds in the heat and a group of overly well dressed folks started up the driveway. I just shook my head and went back to work. They got the hint.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        Bless you. I grew up in that church (if it’s the one I’m thinking of with a Broadway musical about it) and I have realized now after leaving just how weird it is for someone who isn’t interested. The only person I know it did work on is my mother, who converted when me and my sister were little, and still teaches Sunday School to five-year-olds.

        1. Life is Good*

          I live in an area that is heavily populated with folks of that religious persuasion. The last time they came to our door my husband told them to take us off their list (kind of like what you say to telemarketers) and it worked! We have not been bothered for 20 years!

    2. Sibley*

      I’ve had more than my share of people knocking on the door… LDS, Pentecostal (sp?), 7th Day Adventists, and many more. Some have been politer than others. One I called the police on because he would not leave! (police came, talked to him, then told him to leave. Then they told me that he was actually in violation of parole, and they’d be calling his parole officer, so he’d probably be back in jail shortly.)

  25. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #2:

    When I first started helping out with responding to customer complaints passed on to us by our regulatory body, I typically came across as very harsh with similar wording choices. After my first draft, I was coached on how to write in such a way that gets the point across but doesn’t further anger the customer. When you write business correspondence, either internally or externally, you need to do the same. Whether you agree or not, tone does matter.

    I think my quibble with “unacceptable” is that it carries the connotation of a reprimand. OP is not the employee’s manager and has no standing to reprimand a co-worker. A co-worker of mine once sent me an email that used the word “unacceptable.” She was venting about something that happened in the system that caused an issue for her and implied that it was my fault (it wasn’t, it was a vendor problem) and that the situation was unacceptable. It was as if I was a disobedient child, not a 30-something adult with many years of experience. Needless to say, I just about blew a gasket. I replied in a controlled, but very firm manner and it never happened again. Had it been a manager saying the situation was “unacceptable” it would have been a very different reaction on my part.

    Also, the use of the phrase “a spreadsheet of useless information” tells me that the OP may be/come across as judgmental sometimes. Seems like the employee possibly didn’t have enough guidance or instruction before OP left for the day, which is way a spreadsheet was made. Although one could argue that the employee could have asked someone else who was in that day. But maybe no one was available.

  26. Kinder and Gentler Manager*

    OP #2 you may see this as a disagreement of style between you and your manager. While I don’t have a lot of info to go on, I will say that my department is also in a supporting function, and I also place a lot of importance on how we choose words to communicate with both clients and internal contacts.

    Here’s the gist of why – people usually want to work with people who are nice to them or who at least don’t make them feel bad. People are also more willing to forgive their “friends” for mistakes. Being known as an accomodating, nice department has both upped our productivity AND our client satisfaction. Insisting on understanding, friendliness, and relationship-building as part of our department culture has also upped employee satisfaction – I do not keep employees who are combative or negative very long regardless of their skill level. I wind up with more internal turnover when I do.

    Your manager may be attempting to coach you on communication skills for reasons that are a lot more strategic than him not liking your word choice. After reading your letter, misunderstanding one of the points you made and then re-reading your letter, I have to say your style of writing DOES convey a tone that comes across as aggressive or condescending. A few things that jumped out:

    – You seem to be implying that your manager’s habit of correcting you is both unsuccessful and annoying.
    – You call the tier-2 resource’s work useless. Useless is one of those inherently negative words that isn’t often misunderstood.
    – Unacceptable is one of those other inherently negative words and many other commenters (including me) have discussed that one.

    I would pull you aside on this as well if you were one of my directs.

    1. Czhorat*

      Very well put.

      On the positive side, OP2 DOES seem to be coming from the right direction in terms of overall goals; they want a job done correctly so a frustrated client can get what they expect. Their frustration does not appear to be personal, but is about the job having not been done as expected.

      They key is to channel that desire for a job well-done into communication which is constructive and leads to building internal relationships rather than tear them down. Another way of looking at ti is that one needs to see internal clients and relationships as important as external clients or vendors. That’s somethng not everyone does, but something which can be learned.

      1. Kinder and Gentler Manager*

        Agreed – all positives. Honestly, some of my best employees started out with that desire to have things done correctly. The ones that were able to marry that with a positive communication style that builds relationships are the ones who are in line for serious promotions down the road. It’s 100% something to work on!

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      All of this. Also, it’s pretty weird for one’s direct report to be directing that kind of negativity and aggression at other managers, never mind to their own manager. If this is your MO, you may be coming off as rigid, inappropriate, and difficult, and that’s not a good look.

  27. JMegan*

    OP2 – To me, it’s not a question of tone or semantics, so much as it is a question of whether or not the employee’s actions actually *were* unacceptable. Like, there’s probably a difference between disappointing a client and actively sabotaging a project, right? (Which is not to say this is what happened here – I’m just trying to make the point that there certainly are things that are unacceptable in a workplace context, but I don’t think this was one of them.)

    In my high school drama class, we were taught to never start with the highest possible level of emotion, because there’s nowhere to go from there. Same thing here. If you start with the premise that this sort of (probably honest) mistake is unacceptable, where do you go when an employee does something that you really truly can’t accept? Even aside from the tone, you’ve already lost some credibility by overreacting here. If you start throwing “unacceptable” around all the time, it’s going to lose all meaning by the time you really need to use it.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      This is a good point, but I think ultimately, acceptable or not, OP2 simply doesn’t have the standing to be passing that kind of judgment on a coworker at the same tier as them. That’s a boss kind of thing to say, not a coworker kind of thing to say.

      But I agree. If it’s unacceptable, it will speak for itself. You don’t need to push the big button for the boss to get the point.

      1. Cassie*

        I look at it a little differently – if the company has clear expectations of what is to be done in a situation like this and the Tier 1 person failed to do it, then it is not acceptable not to have done it. So anyone looking at the set expectations, and the actions of the Tier 1 person, could make that call that it was not acceptable (or unacceptable).

        If there aren’t clear guidelines or SOP in place, then I’d take it as the OP stating that the performance/behavior was unacceptable to her. I know that there are things in my workplace that I find unacceptable based on our university’s policies, but management doesn’t know about it or turns a blind eye. It’s still unacceptable to me, but I can see it’s acceptable to them.

        Though I probably wouldn’t use the word “unacceptable” because (as most people have said) it sounds harsh.

    2. MuseumChick*

      Oh, that is is excellent point. I’ve never thought about it that way but it makes a whole lot of sense.

      I also find what you say about the word “unacceptable” losing it’s meaning if the OP overuses it really interesting. It’s basically the working-world equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.

  28. NW Mossy*

    Oh, OP #2, I hear you. It’s a super-common trap for professionals who prize technical competence to laser-focus on The Thing That Is Wrong and have the relationships between the people involved drift off to the haze of peripheral vision. That perspective can be great when that’s what the situation requires (such as digging into a mare’s nest of code to find a bug), but in a situation like yours, it became a roadblock to being effective in resolving the issue.

    Fundamentally, your success at work depends not only your ability to have the right answers but how well you can work with others. For you, that latter part likely means that you need to take your manager’s direction and focus on being gentler, especially over email. You can be right as rain on the merits of “unacceptable” as a matter of definition or that Fergus is unbearably useless at Task X, but you will have to give up being objectively correct at times, hard as it might be.

    The problem that you’re trying to solve is not Fergus being an idiot. Even if he is, that’s not in your purview to fix. The problem that you’re trying to solve is how to get the right result for the client while continuing to maintain a decent working relationship with Fergus, your boss, and Fergus’s boss. That problem requires more nuance and tact. Would it be great if everyone could just be super-blunt and not get all wounded in the feels about it? Sure, it’d simplify things a lot. But that’s not the world most of us work in, so we adapt and use tools like kinder, less loaded words when we talk about what others did.

  29. LQ*

    #2 I feel for you on this. I really do. I think that this is likely about the bigger picture more than anything. Your boss has a different expectation of what your communication should be. You aren’t doing the job your boss wants, which is for you to use a different tone in your communication. It’s unacceptable to continue to not do the job your boss wants. Now is it reasonable for him to want that? Eh…I’m not sure. Unacceptable sounds a little harsh, but I’ve used it with my coworkers (though only ever in anticipation “don’t ever do this doing this is completely unacceptable for us” not “you shouldn’t have done that it was unacceptable”) and I’ve definitely used it with service providers (“this turn around time is unacceptable”). But I also know that my tone is a little harsher than it should be (and I’m working on that). And I could hear myself saying this to my boss, though I can’t see myself putting this in an email, which might be part of it.

    You can either aim for shifting your tone to match what your boss expects. (If you think it is harsh.) Or sorry…but find somewhere that your tone isn’t an issue. Changing the boss here will likely be really hard, especially if he corrects you on this often. I worry for you that this is a bigger issue than you are recognizing it as. If your boss is pushing you to agree that you were too harsh and you refused? That sounds like a tough environment to me. I don’t know if you’re being …unacceptable with your language, or if your boss is over the top, but sometimes the boss is the boss and that means they are the ones signing the checks.

    1. Observer*

      Using unacceptable with a vendor should only happen if you know that there is a real possibility that continuation of the behavior (ie the slow turn around time) will result in the termination of the relationship. But, if you really might change vendors over this, then it’s a good thing to let them know that – and “This is unacceptable” is a good way to start the conversation.

  30. Shannon*

    OP 2, it’s completely reasonable for your manager to correct you here. It is not your job to pass judgement on a coworker. He may be useless, but your position in this situation is to inform your manager and his and let them judge how to best deal with the issue. You definitely overstepped and rather than push back on your manager, you need to apologize and move on.

  31. Nolan*

    For #2, though you feel your manager is being nitpicky about your email language, it’s very likely that his complaints aren’t coming from nowhere. At my company, Tier 2 doesn’t usually respond to client tickets directly. Most tickets that get escalated to them come back to Tier 1 with internal notes explaining the problem and/or solution, and then we at Tier 1 “translate” those internal notes into a client-friendly wording. The reason for that is that Tier 2 is very blunt, and sometimes jargony, and some clients complained that they thought the responses were rude. So now most Tier 2 responses go through the Tier 1 customer service filter before the clients actually see them.

    When you’re trying to compose an email about something that’s made you angry, step one should be to use the most neutral, un-emotional language you can think of. Focus on facts, not your opinions of the facts.

    Step 2 is to never send an email in the throes of anger. Compose your email without recipients, and then walk away. Do something else not related to the problem for 5, 10 minutes, calm down, then read your email again. Does it sound furious, or does it objectively describe a non-ideal situation? Edit as necessary to achieve the latter.

    Read it several more times until you’re sure the contents are about facts and not emotions. Make sure there’s no finger-pointing. Once you get to that point, send your email.

    1. Observer*

      The problem here is that the OP seems to consider this a perfectly accurate and *factual* description of the situation. The OP clearly believes that the language in her email is not inappropriate. So, waiting till she calms down isn’t going to help.

      1. Nolan*

        Fair point, but that’s where they’d swap out words like “useless” and “unacceptable” and replace them with phrases life “spreadsheet containing X instead of doing Y” and “the client is now more upset due to the delay”. The idea is that when you calm down and read your email again, it’s easier to edit the emotion out. But if OP can’t separate emotional statements from factual ones you’re right that calming down won’t help. At that point she either has to admit that her communication style does need work, or continue to fight it and possibly die on that hill.

  32. ArtK*

    OP #2

    “Unacceptable” isn’t a word that I would use lightly or in communication with anyone but my own boss. Here’s the way a scenario would play out for me.

    Fergus does some poor work. I would deal directly with Fergus about expectations for the task. Do you know *why* he didn’t do the job? Is this something new to him? Did you give clear instructions on what needed to be done? Getting the job done right is the absolute top priority here. I *might* let my boss know (but probably not) by saying “Fergus’ first attempt at the task didn’t move us forward and the pressure from the client is increasing.” That would simply be a CYA move in case my boss got called on the carpet wondering why the client is so unhappy.

    If, and only if, Fergus just cannot get it, then my communication with my boss would be “Fergus isn’t getting the job done. What he’s accomplished so far is unacceptable *to the client*. How can we resolve this?” Even if I think Fergus’ work stinks, I’m going to make it about the client, not my opinions. I’m only going to communicate with my boss — it’s up to her/him to communicate with Fergus’ boss. If this were a chronic problem, I’d make sure my boss understood how babysitting Fergus was impacting my other work for the company. (Been there, done that. Anybody want a T-shirt?)

    I understand the frustration with getting sub-par work out of someone you depend on, but if you went to “unacceptable” to both your and Fegus’ boss right out of the gate, you positioned yourself as being very hostile. It reads like the proverbial shot across the bow of the Tier1 group. It could have an effect on all of the relationships between your team and Fergus’ since you went straight to his boss. Bluntness in business communication has its place, but it should only be used under the right circumstances and in a very measured way.

    1. ArtK*

      Of course, after posting, something came to me (inspired by some posts above.) When communicating with the boss about Fergus’ shortcomings, I’m going to be *very* specific about what didn’t get done and why. “Fergus is incompetent” doesn’t give my boss (or his boss) anything to work on.

  33. Not So NewReader*

    I see you added more information.
    I definitely get that you are frustrated with your situation. But I am wondering if your cohort is having a hard time following what it is you want. I am thinking this because I had to read and reread your initial post and then I had to read your second post twice also.

    It sounds like your cohort encountered a problem and emailed you. When you did not see it his work just stopped.

    Does he know he is supposed to ask other people if you are not there?
    Will the other people actually ask him or will they snicker and say, “Wait for OP, it’s her problem.”

    I will be honest, OP, your frustration with your job is coming through in your writing. For example, I did not understand the whole tier 1 and 2 thing. Since that is basic to understanding the story, I had to go back and see what that was. I am wondering if you are making assumptions in the way you explain things to your coworker. Did he know this work had to be completed before he went home? Did he know he could ask others if he needed help?
    At best, you are hurrying when you try to communication something. This usually will not play out well. It could be that you hurried through a message to your cohort, then you hurried through a message to your boss.

    If I have to leave work, I will set up the person I am training/supervising with their contact person while I am gone. “I am leaving, so if you have problems the person for you to talk with will be Jane.” Also, I would tell Jane, “I am going to tell Bob to look for you if he has questions, OK?”

    I have no way to know what your message to the coworker was, so that means I am taking a shot in the dark here.

    Just some overall suggestions that I have had to use with myself in the way I communicate:

    1) Self-checks. Is it reasonable for a newer/less experienced person to understand what I just said?
    2)Back up plan. Did I leave my person with an idea of what to do if there is a problem? I do this even if I am just going to be across the room from the person.
    3)Critical pieces. Did I convey all important information such as deadlines, or did I forget something AGAIN?
    4)Emotional/judgey stuff. Am I making sure I am just relating facts in the matter? If the facts do not speak for themselves, is it because I am over-reacting or did I assume the recipient would just automatically know key pieces of information that I left out? (Hint: If I have to include emotional comments/words or if I have to be judgmental, then I am probably not doing a good job of relating the facts.)

    You know what really hits me here, OP, is that it sounds like you do not trust your boss to give you sound advice. Whether she is or is not a good boss to you, is a moot point. It has little bearing here. If you feel you can’t trust her to help you, then it’s pretty much over.

    My suggestion is to stop dwelling on word choices and look at the bigger picture. Do you think this boss has your back or no.

    1. Dizzy Steinway*

      I also wondered if the OP put an auto reply on or let the person know they’d be out?

      1. OP2*

        Just to clarify a little – we all work within 30 feet of each other. I can throw things at the tier 1 person who didn’t do the work, at the one who did the next day, at my manager, and at their manager.

        Our other tier 2 folks would absolutely step in — they were the first to ask why they weren’t consulted if there were questions after I left. :)

        1. tigerStripes*

          That sounds maddening. I used to have to work with and “clean up” after a co-worker who rarely asked for help if he didn’t know what to do; he just ignored the issue. Come to think of it, in a way that worked well for him short-term because when the issue became urgent, management asked me to deal with it. On the other hand, he no longer works at the company.

          It sounds like it would be a good idea though to work on the e-mail tone you use, even though other people can get away with the same tone. I know that’s unfair, but listening to your manager about e-mail tone, maybe even spending some time and asking for more details, could be really good for your career.

          I’m a woman also, and it can be tricky to balance getting taken seriously with not being seen as angry/mean, but it is doable. The way I usually deal with it is niceness, combined with being very factual combined with persistence. I hope thing go well for you!

    2. Observer*

      Hm, I’m not OP2, but I think you’re pushing here. The OP is pretty clear that the instructions were clear, it was taken care of quickly by someone with a lower level of skill and experience, and that the Tier 1 person could have approached the other Tier 2 people – and should have known this.

      Given that reality, the OP’s frustration is reasonable. And I say this despite believing that her language was inappropriate in this case.

  34. Sue Wilson*

    Hmm, well I’ll be the dissenting voice and say I don’t think “unacceptable” was inappropriate, but I’ll say it might be unnecessary in the situation she finds herself.

    OP has a) a sizeable role in this Tier 1’s performance evaluation and b) the primary role with the client. These all make “unacceptable” a reasonable word to use at times, even if she isn’t a manager. If OP has any control over whether this Tier 1 gets to do other work for her, then “unacceptable” might very well have been appropriate. There are plenty of management structures where this is possible.

    BUT it’s clear that your manager is having a problem with you and I think rather than obsessing over this word choice and this reprimand, you need to have a frank conversation with your manager about this. You obviously see this as not a problem and he does. So, you need to know what the consequences he’s anticipating. Is he getting complaints? Are you getting slower results and he thinks it might be your tone? Are your clients’ responses are substantially different than your peers? I think you can ask your boss this, and I think you need to.

  35. C.*

    #5 – is there a coffee shop nearby? Whenever I’m interviewing in the city, I try to spot the closest Starbucks to the building to refresh and change into (or out of) anything before the interview starts.

    1. Observer*

      Given what the weather is likely to be, I wouldn’t change out of boots, especially into heels, till I got into the building. There is a major chance that there is going to be lots of ice on the streets and that’s not great for dress shoes – even for half a block.

  36. Emma*

    OP #5, try asking at a reception desk, either in the lobby downstairs or in the specific office you’re going to, if you can leave your bag with the snow boots with them. I did that for an interview a couple years ago. The security desk downstairs let me leave it with them while I went upstairs and looked completely professional, and then I changed back into them to leave when I came back down.

  37. Observer*

    OP2, another thought. Your original post and the follow up are a perfect example of why how you write can really make a difference. Your original email sounded very different from what came through when you followed up. It’s not just that you added more context, although that really did help. The tone of the original really made it sound like you don’t respect your manager and have a fairly contentious relationship. That’s not what you meant, but that’s what it sounded like.

    I do think that some of what you are seeing is gendered. But, all in all, I also think that that’s not the whole story.

    And, I do totally get your frustration about what the Tier 1 person did. I think I would have been having fits about it too. But, I’d never put that in an email.

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