me, talking about favorite past letters and more

If you like advice columns, I think you will like Hannah and Matt Know It All, a very fun podcast where Hannah and Matt re-answer questions from other advice columns and field new questions too.

I joined them for this week’s episode, where we talked about:

You can listen to the whole episode here or on iTunes.

Picture us like this as you listen:


{ 112 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Since the topic of fake letters just came up again here this morning, if you want to listen to the discussion of it on the podcast, it starts at 4:40.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      My office blocks streaming but I’m interested to listen to this later tonight. I really do not understand how some people get so *angry* about potentially fake letters. If they think you’re just purposely posting fake stuff to rile people up, why bother to respect your opinion enough to read your answers? And if they think it’s not on purpose, what exactly is the harm if someone accidentally responds to a false letter?

      1. Tomato Frog*

        These comments always make me think of an episode of Radiolab about the game show Golden Balls, where they discuss how the desire to not be taken for a sucker is a strong motivator for humans. Contestants are jerks to their fellow contestants, just so they won’t be the person who got tricked. The line in the show is, “The fear of being the sucker far overwhelms their desire to do good to their fellow contestants.”

        Of course, the stakes are lower in AAM comments — no one will ever know if the LW was indeed lying, and therefore no one will be proven to be the sucker. But I always suspect the same motivation subconsciously drives many “This isn’t true” comments. We would rather risk being hurtful than risk feeling foolish.

          1. Tomato Frog*

            Thank you! I chose it in the hope that I would occasionally improve someone’s day by inspiring them to image search tomato frogs.

            1. Hlyssande*

              OMG! You just improved mine! They’re adorable! Fat lil red blobbies, I love them!

              1. JessaB*

                They are so cute, I learn so much on this blog and it isn’t always about work stuff.

        1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

          We would rather risk being hurtful than risk feeling foolish.

          This sentence sums up so much about humans and made me so sad.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          It might tie in to the rule in academia about the most intense battles being over minutia. Okay, we disagree on large political issues; that happens. But the oxford comma…!

          1. Jadelyn*

            Hey now, the Oxford comma became the point upon which an entire case about overtime exemption hung not too long ago!

            “A group of dairy drivers argued that they deserved overtime pay for certain tasks they had completed. The company said they did not. An appeals court sided with the drivers, saying that the guidelines themselves were made too ambiguous by, you guessed it, a lack of an Oxford comma.
            This is what the law says about activities that do NOT merit overtime pay. Pay attention to the first sentence:
            The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
            (1) Agricultural produce;
            (2) Meat and fish products; and
            (3) Perishable foods.
            That’s a lot of things! But if we’re getting picky, is packing for shipment its own activity, or does it only apply to the rest of that clause, i.e. the distribution of agricultural produce, etc.?

            See, all of this could be solved if there were an Oxford comma, clearly separating “packing for shipment” and “distribution” as separate things! According to court documents, the drivers distribute perishable food, but they don’t pack it.
            Yes, this is the real argument they made. And they really won.”

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              There are several “original” copies of the bill of rights, in which the punctuation of the second amendment moves around. Yet where the commas are is crucial to interpreting original intent, even when the originals clearly didn’t grasp that.

            2. Hiker 1546*

              IMO it’s not just the comma that was the problem. If you look at all of the previous words, they all end in “ing”. Distribution does not end in “ing” so it is reasonable to question whether the comma is missing or was not intended to be there in the first place. Perhaps if the bill had used the word “distributing”, then it would be more clear that employees who are distributing also fall into the category with the other “ing” words.

      2. Parenthetically*

        I think there’s a personality type that this really rubs the wrong way — I know it would drive my dad crazy (he’s an Enneagram 1 and an INTJ, if those mean anything to you). Same folks who have to announce they’re unfollowing someone instead of just clicking the unfollow button. Healthy folks like that are a great moral compass for people around them, but we’re not often our healthiest selves in the masked ball that is the internet.

        1. Temperance*

          I’m an INTJ, and I totally struggle with this. I hate dishonesty and lack of integrity, and I admit that I would much rather be rude than taken for a ride. Obviously, YMMV.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq*

            Every time I’ve taken one of those tests I’ve gotten INTJ and its never even occurred to me to question or care about the veracity of a letter (but then, I do have feelings about the honesty and integrity of the Meyers Briggs system…). I certainly value following the rules, but when the consequences of “cheating” are so exceptionally low it hardly seems worth the energy to care.

            1. paul*

              AFAIK, most actual psychologist don’t really consider it valid, and the ones I’m friends with will go off on it a bit if you bring it up during a drinking session

              1. jamlady*

                True – my field is adjacent to psych and my psych friends hate it.

                But even they admit that the sections in INTJs were probably written about me lol

                I also don’t care about possibly fake letters – but I’ve seen some crazy stuff so I can easily see it all being true anyway.

              2. Parenthetically*

                Yeah, I think MBTI like all personality tests is part Rorschach. But I do think they can be useful for self-knowledge in a particular component of life. DiSC focuses on work style, Enneagram on weaknesses and change, Rubin on how people respond to rules/boundaries/restrictions, etc. They can be used well or poorly.

              3. Liz*

                My mum, a psychologist, will rant about the lack of peer review. It is very amusing :-)

            2. tigerStripes*

              I’m an INTJ, and I don’t worry about whether the letters are fake; I tend to assume they’re real. Maybe this is partially because the stakes are so low – if it’s a fake letter, it doesn’t hurt me.

              On the other hand, in general, I do care a lot about integrity.

              Finding out I’m an INTJ type and what that means was actually a huge relief for me. I had spent years wondering what was “different” about me. I knew there was something, but I didn’t know what it was.

        2. emma2*

          This is an interesting point! I was actually having a similar discussion with a friend the other day regarding giving people the benefit of the doubt, even if it holds risk in which the other person takes advantage of your trust. I definitely always take a “innocent until proven guilty” approach to people, with the risk of being made the fool, which has happened.

      3. k*

        I don’t see the harm in answering fake letters either. The letter may be fake, but the advice is still true. The way I’ve found some of my favorite advice blogs and/or columns, AAM included, is by searching for how to deal with a situation I’m in. If I find useful advice that helps me out, I sure don’t care if it was inspired by a fake question.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I think my new policy is going to be “don’t know, don’t care, and don’t want people derailing the conversation with that.”

      4. Taylor Swift*

        I’ll give my two cents and hope that I’m not derailing too much: When letters seem really obviously fake to me it’s usually because they’re so egregious. And when the topics are very egregious I don’t find the advice from Alison or the discussion in the comments to be very interesting or useful because it’s usually obvious and one-sided. But thankfully I can either skip those posts or collapse those comment threads.

        1. Justme*

          And on top of that, they seem fake if the OP (or someone claiming to be OP) doesn’t ever post on the over-the-top stuff.

          1. Adam V*

            To be fair – if you asked Allison about something that was actually happening to you, and someone commented “this feels so fake to me”, and others agreed, would that necessarily incentivize you to wade in and defend yourself, or just say “you know what, I wrote Allison for advice and that’s what she gave me; I’m just going to ignore the doubters in the comments”?

            1. Justme*

              Personally? I would wade in and defend myself. Which is why I posted as I did. And it’s not always a pile-on, there have been a few times where people have wanted more information and the OP was nowhere to be found (then it devolved into a pile-on).

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes. And also, at least half of all letter writers don’t post in the comments. Lots of people (most people?) aren’t comment section people.

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              I would be strongly inclined to stay out of the comments if they were at all hostile. I can post all day about how Canada is NOT a suburb of Minneapolis, but there seems little point to it.

              Possible exception if something was edited (by myself or Alison) for brevity and it’s clear this is the critical detail that completely changes how people view the situation.

          2. Lance*

            That depends; there’s been multiple situations where the over-the-top stuff is to the fault of the OP, so them not commenting would be understandable (and in general, there’s multiple personality types who wouldn’t want to comment after the fact, one way or another).

            1. Parenthetically*

              That’s totally true. The lady whose best employee quit because she wouldn’t let her go to her graduation, for example — how is she going to come into THAT comments section?

        2. Taylor Swift*

          I’ll chime back in and say that even the questions that aren’t totally over-the-top, but also seem to have pretty open and shut answers and then get 500 comments with different variations on the same theme don’t interest me. I skip those ones, too. And the questions that bring up the same arguments over and over (crappy parental leave in the U.S., mansplaining, etc.).

        3. Augusta Sugarbean*

          I wish more of these letters were fake! I wish all the stories about enraging coworkers and horrible bosses were all made up. Sadly, I am sure they are legit.

          I think it’s just really hard to see things from someone else’s perspective. If you have only had relatively normal workplaces, it’s hard to envision the extreme lunacy of some of these letters. It’s easier to hand wave it away as the description by someone who is exaggerating. (And if someone has worked with a drama llama, that also probably contributes to the same “boy who cried wolf” dismissal.)

          1. Bookworm*

            I always figure that most people have one or two stories in their back pocket (be it work-related or from a another area of life) that absolutely sound crazy and made up. I know I have. Given billions of people in the world doing this, it’s only natural that some of those insane stories are true.

            Although some of the bosses are truly mind-boggling.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            There’s a line in Ethan of Athos that stayed with me–Elli tells Ethan something, which he ponders, shivers, and says “I can imagine.” And she thinks about it and says, yes, he can–he can make the effort of imagination to grasp something outside his own direct experience. It’s a human skill we really should take as a baseline, rather than imagining everyone has the same experiences we do. (It’s why living abroad is so valuable–you have experience where the baseline assumptions of how things obviously must work is different.)

        4. emma2*

          Truth is stranger than fiction, IMO. The more nuanced a story is, and the more details the OP provides about context in order to explain how such a strange situation could have occurred – it sounds like it could have only happened to this person and is most probably true. I have a story like this up my sleeve (though not work related), and it sounds so absurd with I describe it out loud.

          But I agree with others that it doesn’t do any good to write in the comments whether you think a letter is fake or not.

    2. Lablizard*

      That accusation made me laugh. I have a friend who had too​ much fun on NYE in Frankfurt and woke up in San Francisco because he wandered into a plane, ticketless, when very drunk. It was post-2001 so the how he did it was of interest to many (he wishes he knew how he did it as he doesn’t even remember going to the airport). Reality is weirder than people think and systems break down on occasion. I can totally see getting on a plane to the wrong Naples

  2. Merci Dee*

    Alison, I totally love this pic! I think it should be the cornerstone of a new set of official promotional materials. I already think very highly of your advice, but I would tend to think of you as even more of an advice goddess if you traveled around in a groovy, shag-carpet filled 70s van with “the Advice Machine” on the side! Especially if kitties were waving at me from the roof! ~swoons~

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OMG, I would love to see the avatar in a Magic School-Bus type bus. (The avatar now has a cone? I feel like I need to go search the open threads).

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          How have I missed it all this time? Time to find my rock to crawl under ;)

      1. JessaB*

        Yes the next time you do a new kind of graphic you totally need to be drawn as Miss Frizzle.

    2. BizzieLizzie*

      That black kitten is so black and glossy – I can’t believe black cats are least likely to be picked at rescue places. I want a job going from place to place with cats on the top of my van.
      Sorry about random ramblings but I have a weakness for black cats & BTW the “Lizzie” in pen my name is after my little black lizzie cat, a cat who was indeed always bizzie:)

      1. Jadelyn*

        One of my mom’s cats is a Bombay – tiny black thing with giant orange owl-eyes. I love black kitties! I will adopt all of them, lol.

        1. Amadeo*

          Right? They’re like your own mini-panther! I have a tuxedo aged old lady in the house and a little black boy with a white apron and white armpits (which is really hilarious) waiting for his spot indoors. If it were up to me he’d already be inside, but you know. The old lady always looks so unimpressed with her hooded eyes, but the boy’s can get wide as moons in his face, bright and green.

  3. Antilles*

    That sounds like it’d be a really interesting listen; going to check it out tonight.
    I read the Prudence beach house one and couldn’t help but laugh. If I had a family member who owned a beach house and let me stay there for a week for only $500 in the summer, I’d be doing backflips – in a lot of desirable vacation areas, it costs more than that to stay at a Holiday Inn.

    1. Kristine*

      Yes, that beach house story was unbelievable, wasn’t it? When my ex and I were still together I paid his aunt $500/week to rent their apartment in Paris (in Montemartre, no lift, but private bathroom) during the off season and counted myself very lucky!

  4. Hannah & Matt*

    Thank you so much for joining us, Alison! It was so fun to have you on the show and get your insight into some of our questions! We really appreciate your taking the time.

      1. SaraV*

        EXTREMELY late to this, but…

        Several years ago, someone in Lincoln, Nebraska, had their van painted as the Mystery Machine. I think there might be a news article because it got in an accident.

  5. animaniactoo*

    I can’t wait to go home and check this out now.

    In the meantime, that beach house one: “The price for this house belonging to everyone and you having a say in this was $50,000.00 from you, 5 years ago. You declined. I enjoy having you spend time with us when we’re there, but it does not belong to everyone. I’m sorry that you seem to have misunderstood what was on offer back then.”

    1. paul*

      that letter made me mad as hell at the writer’s relatives. Grr. I shouldn’t have read it.

    2. Aiani*

      Does that particular question remind anyone else of the children’s book, The Little Red Hen?

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      And somewhere out there someone is warming up to yell “Fake! There’s no way people would believe that they have a claim on the family beach house if they haven’t made a prior major capital investment! No one thinks like that.”

  6. Allypopx*

    Subscribing to this podcast!

    Also bringing up the long standing suggestion that Alison would make a great podcast

  7. AngtheSA*

    You sound so different than I imagine but I love it. Now when I read your column I am going to hear your voice!

  8. Lisa from scenic Michigan*

    I won’t get to listen till tomorrow, but I am in love with that graphic. It’s soooo groovy!

  9. lionelrichiesclayhead*

    Thanks for this, Alison! I just added all of their episodes to my to-listen list. Can’t wait for the commute home!

  10. Whats In A Name*

    I am in the process of listening now, but want to say a few things….

    1) Love the graphic
    2) Love that now when I read your advice I can read it in your voice
    3) The girl hugging the CEO is my favorite all time story because it’s so nice to know that other people accidentally do really awkward things when they aren’t always awkward.

  11. Tasha*

    I’m surprised that the same letter is occasionally answered by different columnists (AAM, Prudie, the guy at Salon, Amy D., Carolyn Hax, Miss Manners). I thought the volume of letters would be so great that the chance of that happening would be tiny. Yes I am an advice column junkie.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Fellow advice column junkie here too! I love when that happens! I’m a major Hax fan and I know she’s talked about it a couple of times.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oooh, do you remember what she’s said about it? I suspect it’s that the things that make a letter appealing to answer to one columnist also appeal to the others.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I think just remarking about the fact that it happens and linking to similar letters that went to her and Prudie (pre-Mallory Prudie, alas).

        2. animaniactoo*

          Basically, she’s said “It happens. I find it interesting to see how the answers differ.”

          She’s talked about how she decides what letters to publish, and a few of her key markers are: Unique enough to be interesting, a common enough situation that she hasn’t addressed in awhile, and in either case feels that the answer is useful for several people, even if they aren’t in the exact situation.

          After it happened multiple times in a few months, the Washington Post started linking to the prior Amy or Hax column that the letter had been answered in for the online edition. One time there was even a Miss Manners pickup!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m still thinking about it! I’m trying to decide what it could be other than me just reading letters and answering them. Ideas welcome!

      1. Jax*

        I’ve really enjoyed when you interviewed people with…unique or uncommon jobs. I’d love to hear where the conversation goes with some of them.

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          Yes! Interviewing people with uncommon jobs; role-playing awkward conversations or unique situations; discussions with the Evil HR Lady…or simply having your nieces read and respond to letters “on the air.”

        2. required*

          I really like this – interview someone with unique or uncommon job, then let them help you give advice on some letters.

        3. Karo*

          Interviews with people with more common jobs could be helpful as well. That may, however, be coming from a place of “I don’t know what to do with my life; someone tell me a job that sounds interesting.”

      2. Squeeble*

        Even if it is just you answering letters, I think that’d be great! Maybe you could have guests occasionally and talk through advice together, the way Dear Prudence does.

        1. Sydney*

          It should be free but I’m not adverse to their being ads or sponsors. Lots of podcasts do this.

      3. animaniactoo*

        You’ve said that you developed your thoughts about what good management was by encountering some pretty bad bosses. I’d love to hear about some of those situations, the conclusions you drew, and how they may have changed over time when faced with them from the other side, or under other circumstances, etc.

        I’d also be interested in an “in the news” spin, taking something that’s in the news somehow, and talking about how you think the “employee” in the situation might handle it, and what factors management should be taking into account in their approach.

        Also seems like a good outlet for answering the “fake/literary characters predicaments” letters you’ve gotten?

      4. Sylvia*

        Make your updates into podcasts! See if people would chat with you about the background of their first letter, what they thought of your advice, what they did, and how it’s working out. If you have updates from a few people on similar subjects, turn it into a roundtable discussion.

      5. Sarah*

        I would love this too! I think it would be great if you could have people “call in” with their questions so you could discuss the situation. (It could still be anonymous, although I’m sure for some issues people wouldn’t even want their voice — but could at least be fake names.) I feel like so often with the published letters we end up having questions about the situation and being able to have a back-and-forth with the people asking questions would be awesome!

    2. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

      I think it would be really interesting to interview people in different fields and in different stages of their careers. I love hearing about other people’s jobs and as someone’s who feeling a bit stuck in my own career, it would be super helpful. SI also really love your workplace/pop culture questions and perhaps that you could tie that into a regular event where you could link your advice/experience with either stories from the news or pop culture.

  12. Evan Þ*

    Thanks for the link!

    For some reason I was really surprised when I heard your voice, Alison – I somehow had this impression of you as sounding much sterner, when you actually sound really friendly and personable!

  13. EA*

    I just listened.

    I thought it was great.

    I also know this is awkward, but Alison you have a very nice sounding voice! You could totally do a podcast if you wanted. I say this as someone who sounds like a child and whose voice irritates people.

      1. Franzia Spritzer*

        I was cursed with a cartoon voice, until recently that is (MUWAHAHAHA). Most of us sound really young until we’re not young anymore, it’s a consequence of aging. As women, our pitch lowers as we creep through menopause when our estrogen levels drop.

  14. Rebecca*

    I used my phone’s Podcast manager and downloaded the episode! Looking forward to listening to this tomorrow during work!

  15. Liz*

    Hurray! My podcast listening has skewed heavily towards HORRIFYING MURDER lately, it will be great to have something different.

    Also, without even listening to this, I Nth the call for Alison to have her own podcast, especially if it involves interviewing people with interesting jobs. One of the reasons I love AAM, even though it’s not really relevant to my office these days, is that I find WORK really interesting, and I especially love asking people about their career paths. (It’s great when you’re feeling tongue tied at a networking event!) So the whole “how did you end up here?” discussions really interest me.

    1. Parenthetically*

      It’s my favorite thing to ask someone on a plane. I love finding out about whole fields I didn’t know existed, and hearing how people got to where they are now.

      1. Liz*

        I’m in the MFM Facebook group, and the post from the person (maybe about their friend?) who found that their replacement in a job had been arrested for murder made me DESPERATELY want a crossover.

    1. DS*

      Yeah I really dislike the Mallory nonsense. I think she is terrible. I can’t understand why they picked her.

    2. Finn*

      I liked Emily fine most of the time, but her advice was sometimes really weird, and her stance on sexual assault was wildly uncool. I loved Mallory at The Toast and I love her now, even if I don’t always agree with her.

Comments are closed.