police are at my office after a coworker was fired, how direct should I be with a rambling employee, and more

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

1. After a coworker was fired, police are stationed at all the entrances to my building

My company sent out an email this week letting us know “Wallace” had been fired and was not allowed in the building or on campus. If we see him, we’re supposed to alert security immediately. Wallace worked in another department — I didn’t know him (and don’t know anyone that worked with him), so I don’t know any other details, but I really wish I did because without details I’m not sure if I’m under-worried or over-worried.

Police cars were stationed at the front and back entrances all week, which makes the situation seem serious, and with the various workplace shootings in recent years, I’m a bit alarmed. Is there any way to get more information about the situation from HR? Can you (or your readers) give any advice on how worried I should be?

I don’t know how worried you should be without knowing more details, but you can absolutely ask your company to give people more information. Point out that if there’s a real danger, people will be far better able to guard against it if they know what the concern is.

It’s possible that this is their standard procedure whenever there’s a contentious firing, but it’s also possible that there’s something about this specific situation that was especially worrisome.

2. How direct should I be with a rambling employee?

I have an employee who has a serious problem going into far too much detail in nearly every work conversation. The other people in the meeting can’t even get a word in to interrupt her. It’s very awkward whenever it happens.

I’ve tried giving her feedback about listening more, keeping things top line, asking questions instead of talking, and writing outlines of key points. I’ve also given her some information about being “socially intelligent” that I got at a leadership retreat. Nothing has changed. On some occasions, she has said that she feels inadequate and that her response is a defense mechanism, which I’ve tried to explain is holding her back. At this point, I know she’s lost job opportunities of this. I’ve tried to give her some leadership roles, but it’s really challenging because she will end up steamrolling a meeting with the leaders of our company, which impacts our whole team negatively.

I’m about to be promoted in the company and want to give her some final feedback because I know she won’t get promoted into a management role without figuring this out. How direct should I be?

Very direct. It sounds like you’ve tried to coach her around the edges of the problem but haven’t directly told her that the wordiness is a problem and is holding her back. Without knowing that, she may not have the right framework for receiving the feedback you’ve been giving her, and she may be thinking of that feedback as helpful suggestions rather than crucial changes she needs to make.

It would be a kindness to be direct with her — as in, “You have a habit of supplying far too much detail and making it tough for others in the conversation to get a word in. It’s holding you back from opportunities I know you’d like, like X and Y, so it’s crucial that you work on this and make the sort of changes we’ve talked about in the past. To give you a sense of where you should be aiming, I’d recommend you aim to cut the amount of talking you’re doing in most work discussions down to about 30% of its current level. That’s a big cut, obviously, but I want you to have a frame of reference for what people’s expectations normally would be.”

More advice on this here and here.

3. Connecting with a stand-off-ish coworker

My team recently went through a big restructure that involved bringing on a few new team members (mostly internal transfers). My company participates in a personality testing program for all new hires where you get a booklet in the end outlining things like your strengths, weaknesses, how to communicate with you, how you would like to be managed etc. This test is largely well received within the company as, since we started it 2 years ago, the assessments have proven to be accurate and an easy way to discuss team dynamics and communication.

As a new team, our manager booked a roundtable meeting where we each went through the different sections of our test results. It was made very clear that you could choose what you would like, or would not like to share (some of the “weakness” comments can hit pretty close to home!) and the environment was relaxed. We all found it really beneficial and it helped a lot with facilitating an open conversation within our team.

Except for one team member. She did not even bring her book with her and spent the entire meeting completely silent. She is an internal transfer who has worked for the company for several years and has a reputation for being stand-offish and difficult to work with, although she is an expert in a niche area of the business (which also made her the person I wanted to hear from most so we could start off on the right foot!). I am not her manager, but our roles will work together very closely and I would really like to get feedback from her on the best way we can communicate and give one another feedback.

Since our manager made it clear that no one had to share if they didn’t want to, I want to be respectful of the fact that she obviously wasn’t comfortable sharing, but I would also like to approach her about communication styles to improve our working relationship. Is there a way to do this without coming off as pushy? Or should I just accept that she isn’t interested in this kind of team building and let it go?

I’d let it go. Some people really aren’t into personality profiling, especially in a work context, and she made it pretty clear at the meeting that she’s one of them.

I do think, though, that you can ask her more targeted questions if you have them — like “I’ve noticed you mostly send project updates in email — how do you feel about meeting periodically to talk about bigger-picture stuff on projects?” or whatever the specific work process questions are that you think would help to talk about.

4. Taking a job with the company that laid off my spouse

I recently received a couple of recruiting messages on LinkedIn from the company that laid off my husband about four months ago. One of the messages was from a hiring manager who I had briefly met at least once at a company event. I didn’t want to dismiss an opportunity without any real information so I followed up with him. During our phone interview, he admitted that he hadn’t realized who I was until after he sent the initial LinkedIn message.

Interviews went well and I’m now preparing to accept a great job offer. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on working at a company that recently laid off one’s spouse. The company is around the 150-person mark and I’d be working in the same area with the same people my husband used to work with. Should this history factor heavily into my job decision? Do you think this be a problem later, and are there any steps I should take to avoid issues?

I have talked with my husband about this. While he is not happy to have been laid off and doesn’t understand why he was chosen, he is also excited about the financial and career advancement opportunity this job will provide me. We agree that in general the layoffs were one of several good business moves and are not concerned with the stability of the company at this time.

If you think your husband was treated reasonably fairly and that the lay-offs made sense, and if you’re not concerned about the security of the job you’d be accepting, then I think this just comes down to you and your husband’s personal comfort levels with this. Will it be weird for him to hear you talking about work if you take the job? Does he want you to have different boundaries than you’d normally have in talking about work? Will you feel awkward telling him about your own successes there? Will it be uncomfortable for him to, say, attend the company holiday party with you, if that’s something he’d normally accompany you to? Those are the kinds of things I’d be looking at — the relationship impact stuff more than the actual work stuff.

5. Pushing back on deadlines as a guest lecturer on a specialist tour

I’m a leading expert on (let’s say) Korean teapots, and have been asked by a high-end travel company to go along as guest lecturer on a specialist tour, for alumni of my own university, of teapot-making sites and teapot museums in Korea (so to speak). The tour will be in spring 2018; all my travel costs will be covered and I will be paid a (rather small) fee, but it will also enable me to take some further time to do research and see friends in the region (where I used to live) at minimal cost to myself.

Although I am a recently retired academic, I am still involved in research and writing, and currently have a number of projects with looming deadlines: finalizing a manuscript for publication, three conference papers in the autumn, and a PhD student coming up to thesis submission.

I have already worked with the travel company to draw up an itinerary and have provided them with blurb about Korean teapots to present to the alumni association sponsoring the tour. Now I have been asked by the travel company to write much more detailed information on the teapot-associated sites we will visit, as well as titles and brief (50-word) summaries of the lectures I will give on the tour (which I haven’t yet had time to think about at all, and the last and only time I’ve done a gig like this was 20+ years ago!), plus a reading list – all this to attract/inform actual participants for the tour. I was asked to produce the detailed information by the end of next week. After pushback from me, they’ve said the end of the following week, and the end of the month for the lecture list and reading list. I’ve said I will do my best but have made no promises in view of my other deadlines, which have to take priority.

On the one hand, I don’t want to derail arrangements for the tour, which I’m keen to do, but on the other, I’m not pleased that the travel company have sprung these demands on me, when they could have alerted me earlier. They may think that as I’m retired I’m just sitting around twiddling my thumbs, but that is very far from the case. In my view, the small fee pays for my services on the tour itself, and now, without advance warning, I’m being asked to do quite a lot of preparatory work against a tight deadline without any additional recompense. Am I being unreasonable? Or are they? How far – and in what ways – can I push back? I wonder if any of your readers in the travel industry can suggest how flexible deadlines may be nearly a year in advance of the actual tour?

I think it would be perfectly reasonable to say, “Right now I have a number of looming deadlines and don’t realistically have the time to do this writing for you. Since this wasn’t mentioned as part of our original agreement, it’s not something I’d scheduled time for, and I hadn’t been planned to work on my lectures until later in the year. If I’d been alerted earlier, I could have carved out time for this, but this is very late notice. Realistically, I could do ___ (fill in what you’re actually willing to agree to and by when). Will that work?”

I think, too, you could say, “When we originally agreed on the fee for my participation, my understanding was that it was my services on the tour itself. For the types of materials you’re asking for now, I’d normally charge an additional fee.”

In approaching all of this, though, you should factor in how much you still want to go even if they don’t budge on this stuff, and what sense they’ve given you so far of how much room you have to push back.

{ 393 comments… read them below }

  1. Sami*

    OP#1: I think you can reasonably ask for a photo of the former employee. And ask if there is a specific concern warranting the police presence- e.g. Did he threaten a specific person? And what else the company is doing for security.
    Hope all goes well- meaning nothing happens.

    1. PatPat*

      I hope your job will give more details. If the guy was making threats to come back and shoot people, the employees need to have that information. Being that the company had the police there, the threat must have been pretty serious and I think they need to share that information.

      In my job, I attend court a few times a week. A few months ago a bailiff came into the hall where we were waiting for a hearing with a panicked look on his face and said, “You all have to get out. Now!!” He didn’t give any details at all. We started leaving and I headed for the stairs because I hate using elevators. But something stopped me and told me to use the elevators. I later found out an escaped murderer who had brutally stabbed a woman was in one of the stairwells. That’s information I should have been given for my own safety!

      1. JessB*

        Especially given that standard procedure for an emergency evacuation is to use the stairs and NOT the elevators! That’s very poor emergency management, in a situation that should have been planned for.

        1. Artemesia*

          With an armed killer, they should have locked those people down securely in a locked room rather than sent them randomly out. Scary stuff.

          And police cars at front and back of the company in LW1 is not SOP anywhere unless something really threatening is present. She needs more information and some sort of plan for security in the event of a crisis.

          1. Frances*

            Not that this particular situation was handled well, but I thought that the current guidance was to “run” before “hiding” in case of an emergency like that. So that would make evacuation the right call.

            1. fposte*

              You run when there’s safe evacuation and hide when there isn’t. Sounds like there may not have been safe evacuation.

              1. OhNo*

                It sounds like they thought there was a safe way out (the elevators), but neglected to tell anyone that was the only safe evacuation route. Which is especially dumb – people need to know what the safe route out is if you’re evacuating them!

                1. TootsNYC*

                  especially because elevators are slow, especially with a crowd of people; stairs are faster.

            2. Artemesia*

              Surely in a court house they have the capacity lock rooms. Sending people out with an active predator and no guidance has got to be the worst. What if the OP had taken the stairs and picked the wrong one?

          2. Karen D*

            Right. I doubt any police department has the budget to send even just a few officers to a private business for days running without a serious, credible threat. And while police are often open to working off-duty shifts (compensated by the company) that’s a hellaciously expensive way to do security; a private company could do just as good a job, just lacking the authority to make an arrest.

            We’ve had threats before at my workplace, and we only had police coverage once – and in that case, it was one officer (for detention and arrest) augmented by stepped up security from our regular security provider.They also emailed everyone a picture of the threatening individual and a general description of what to be on the lookout for. He was eventually detained and arrested someplace else, thank goodness.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Uniformed police officers may actually be working for a private security company.

              1. Karen D*

                Yep, that was what I was referencing when I talked about off-duty shifts. Though in my area it’s more common for the police officers to be directly contracted rather than going through a third party like a security company – I think it has to do with bonding.

            2. Pommette*

              In my city, private companies can “rent” the series of municipal police by paying a fee to the department, and by covering officers’ over-time salary.

              Companies that want to organize certain types of public events have to pay for these service in order to be eligible for a permit from the city. Companies that want protections above those normally afforded by the department can also request them. Coverage is expensive (police salaries + overtime) and is contingent on availability, but the situation the OP describes sounds like the kind of thing the thing that would happen here.

        2. BananaPants*

          You don’t use the elevators when there’s an evacuation due to fire. You can certainly use them when evacuating for other reasons.

      2. Bobert*

        My guess is they don’t want to alert anyone because it will likely make it to the news. Headline: ‘ACME Teapots under threat of violence from disgruntled former staffer’.

      3. OP #1*

        @PatPat: That’s super horrible and scary! I’m glad you took the elevator and were okay.

        Good example of how harmful a lack of information can be.

    2. Gaia*

      The company we share a building with terminated someone and then had police around for 2 weeks. Every day they had an officer checking IDs of people coming into the parking lot and two officers physically patrolling the exterior of the building.

      I never found out what happened to warrant that but it was a scary few weeks.

    3. ThatGirl*

      I’ve been in two situations where fired employees were potential risks to the rest of the company, and neither resulted in police presence… in the most recent one we were all alerted that so-and-so was no longer with the company and to let Manager know if we heard from them. I later heard it was because that person had become somewhat unhinged and threatening, but I don’t think there was ever a specific violent threat.

      (In the first one, a guy was fired after slamming his car door into another employee’s door in the parking lot, then lying about it, and police did come to escort him off the premises… and we later found some other stuff out about him… but again I don’t think he threatened anyone specifically, he just seemed kind of generally violent/angry.)

      1. Me*

        At a previous job one person got fired because apparently he made some remarks they deemed aggressive. I don’t know if it was a direct threat or an implied one, but they had police come when they removed him. They hung around in the parking lot for most of the day. The front desk people and their coverage were sent an email with his picture and told that if he showed up asking to talk to someone, he should be told to call HR at the number given in the email and NOT allowed any access. They did NOT share the reasons for this with us; I heard about through the grapevine. Nobody but the desk folks got the email.

        We had no real security personnel; front desk and covering persons were told to call facilities if anyone refused to leave. We also had a panic door near the front desk; we could get up and go into the secure area of the building (only the lobby was open access).

        The company did training often and we were reminded about social engineering, which included things like piggybacking into the building, et al. Not too long before I left, they required a training module that included run-hide-fight. I had already watched that video and even written a post on what to do if an active shooter was in the building for my admin blog. Nice to have a refresher, though.

      2. Wanderer*

        We had one situation where a guy (Joe) quit or was fired, either way he was just gone one day. It was very sudden and my manager didn’t say a word about it – since I had been working directly with Joe, I asked but was told he couldn’t say anything (implying legal reasons). Joe and I got along fine but I knew things hadn’t been going well for him.
        The not-fine part was about two weeks later, senior manager sent out an email along the lines of “If you see Joe Smith around, notify Company Security immediately, he’s not allowed to be on company property.” Since, again, I was the one working most closely with him, I went to the senior manager and asked if there was a reason to be concerned. Turns out Joe just didn’t turn his ID and laptop in by the deadline so this was the response, and that oh by the way, Joe did turn in his ID and laptop in the few hours after the email was sent. I told senior manager that his email was fairly alarming and he apologized but no follow up was ever sent to clarify that Joe was not considered a threat.

    4. Amber T*

      Yeah, I think it’s pretty ridiculous to have a police presence and not tell anyone why. I get that *why* someone was fired and their overall performance is between said employee and the manager/HR, but if you’re going so far as to have police guard the entrances, the workers there deserve the right to know if they’re in any danger (or be assured they’re not). “Before leaving, Wallace made some general threats to X, and while we are sure he won’t follow through, we’re taking preventative measures, such as a police presence.”

    5. OP #1*

      They did actually provide a photo–apologies for not mentioning that in my letter!

      I like the wording of asking if there is a “specific concern warranting the police presence” and it’s a good idea to ask if the company is doing anything else for security (especially since I didn’t see any police today).

      Thank you!

    6. M-C*

      I’ve been at the periphery of plenty of contentious firings, but the police has never been involved. I’d take their presence as a clear sign that credible death threats have been made and verified. If you can work from home for a bit, this would probably be a good idea :-). But seriously, even when the guy who’d been waving a loaded gun at work was fired we didn’t get the police, and I didn’t find that detail out till a couple years later via gossip from a directly-involved person. Your company may be concerned about any future legal action around what they release publicly, you should assume the worst.

  2. MillersSpring*

    OP1: You should ask for a photo of Wallace, if you’re supposed to alert security if he is seen.

    1. Mookie*

      And if the employer or HR balk at this (and you otherwise feel comfortable and safe engaging with police officers), ask the officers stationed for a description and/or photograph.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        Yes OP#1, your personal safety comes first, before any company policy. You have every right to go above HR and contact the police for more information (photo of Wallace, words used in the threats he made, etc.). You would also be doing your co-workers a huge favor in this situation.

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, I just want to emphasize letting this go. I’m a fairly open/social/pro-teambuilding person, and I would rather have a full-body sunburn than voluntarily participate in a go-around that included sharing different aspects of our assessments. I’ve had to do it before, and despite having excellent peers and thoughtful/skilled facilitators, it made me feel like an overloaded electrical socket and took days to wear off.

    I’m probably an outlier or may be especially weird, but this is all to say that your coworker might not be stand-offish. This “opportunity” might just be the exactly wrong venue for her.

    So I would do what Alison suggests—ask specific questions regarding specific, work-related interactions. And if that’s successful, graduate to asking her to walk-and-talk as you grab coffee, and so on.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      (I don’t mean to negate your point re: her having a reputation of being stand-offish or hard to work with. Just meant to say that this particular incident may or may not be related to her overall stand-offish-ness.)

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      Yeah. I actually really like doing these sorts of assessments but I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable sharing the results with people I only just met. Who might then pigeonhole me according to them.

      OP, try to remember this was an abnormal situation and as such it’s not the best litmus test of your coworker’s general MO.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        PS I know you said she has a reputation for being standoffish, but I’d ignore that and form your own opinion – and not on the basis of this.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          “stand-offish” too often is shy/introverted- where it’s just discomfort and not something more negative.

          So the outgoing types always think these kind of things are helpful- and they aren’t always wrong. Personally, I find it helps me shape how I deal with people- if only in helping me not take offense at how someone else approaches me- but they never take into account how it’s torture for some people! So Jane gets labeled “not team player” for just being extremely uncomfortable sharing something this personal.

          1. Tomato Frog*

            I always think of Georgiana Darcy when I hear someone described as standoff-ish or a snob. In Pride & Prejudice, Elizabeth had heard that Georgiana was “exceedingly proud” but upon meeting her realizes she’s just “exceedingly shy.”

            1. Harper*

              That’s one of the things that makes that one of my favorite novels. Jane Austen GOT it. :D

            2. Michelle*

              I am extremely shy, and was diagnosed with Social Anxiety as an adult. School was so hard for me; on top of being shy, people didn’t seem to like me, and I couldn’t figure out why. I will never forget the summer after my senior year of high school, when a girl I hardly knew walked right up and asked me why I was such a snob and didn’t like anyone.

              Ironically, I’m an extrovert. With anxiety meds, or a little alcohol, I’m the life of the party (and talking everyone into an after party).

          2. Koko*

            Do folks perceive “standoffish” as a negative term? I’ve always used it as a sort of neutral matter-of-fact way to describe someone’s behavior without trying to theorize about the personality typing behind it, to just describe someone who keeps to the edges and participates minimally in group settings, for whatever reason. (I also use it to describe animals who are hard to draw out!)

            1. Alienor*

              I don’t perceive it as negative because I’m pretty standoffish myself, so I like other standoffish people because I know we can safely ignore each other and no one will be offended. :) But I think I’m mostly alone in that feeling.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                I don’t personally perceive the *behavior* as negative, but the *term* is generally considered so.

        2. curmudgeon*

          I concur about the standoffish claim
          After working at a place for 2 years, I slowly became friends with someone who was a seasonal/pt person who was surprised at how nice, likable, & funny I was as she thought I was aloof & standoffish. She didn’t realize I had been dropped into a position that included several duties I had not been told about or had the training to do, had been commuting 90 mins each way while looking for a place closer, and was being bullied (seriously) by the person whose desk was behind mine who turned out to be lower on the totem pole, p/t, and deliberately feeding me (and other) misinformation.
          As a massive introvert, I had created a wall that would put Trump to shame and was doing all I could to protect myself.
          When you are the only introvert in an office full of extroverts, you tend to get a reputation of being aloof or standoffish or just a plain dullard even when you are far from that.

      2. PatPat*

        My husband attended a management conference where all the participants had to do a similar test. His results were so interesting that I did the short, free version that’s online. The information was very apt and very good but by the end of the test both my husband and I both said, “Ugh! I hate myself!” The test really pegged us accurately and provided a lot of good information but seeing our true faults laid out was hard to take. Your coworker obviously feels a bit sensitive about her results so don’t ask her directly. Alison’s advice may prompt her to reveal some of communication style to you on her own but I don’t think you should ask directly.

        1. JamieS*

          It’s possible OP’s new coworker is sensitive about her results. However I don’t think we or the OP should jump to that conclusion based solely on her not wanting to actively participate in a round-table discussion on everyone’s personalities. There are a plethora of reasons why she may have chosen not to participate ranging from being sensitive about her results to simply feeling like it was a waste of her time.

          1. aebhel*

            This. I have a pretty good grasp of my own faults, and I’ve never had a personality test tell me anything I didn’t already know about myself. I just find them creepy and invasive and kind of a waste of time (and they’re not always that accurate; there’s nothing more frustrating than getting pigeonholed as a ‘type’ based on a some pop-science personality assessment).

          2. The Southern Gothic*

            Maybe this co-worker prefers not to be confined to “labels” about her personality. My experience with this kind of testing is that it can make you feel reduced to a “type” – it’s very superficial and it colors how others interact with you. She may also not agree with the test results and isn’t crazy about sharing them.

          1. SophieChotek*

            Me too! (Like Ramona, I enjoy taking these tests, but probably would not want to share in an office setting!)

          2. Koko*

            One of the most common ones I see used in workplaces is a two-axes test. One axis measures whether your assertiveness style is more asking or telling, and the other measures how much emotion you display and incorporate into your decision-making. You end up with: Analytical (ask/controlled), Driver (tell/controlled), Amiable (ask/emotive), and Expressive (tell/emotive). If you google those four type names you’ll find a bunch of stuff.

            We did one years ago at my office and I found it both helpful and invasive at the same time.

            1. Koko*

              Also: they showed us a mapping of where the entire senior leadership team fell on the grid, and virtually all of them were tell/controlled with one or two who were ask/controlled. Three guesses what impression that gives to everyone who scored as emotive.

          3. Awelisa*

            It sounds similar to DISC which is by Target Training International. We use it at work, even though I can’t remember ever what the letters stand for. It’s a behavioral test that shows you how you want to be perceived and what you do under stress. I remember when I took it it was the dumbest thing ever, but then being surprised at how accurate it is.

            Just last week our Leadership did a refresher course on it, and how to best communicate with each other and how to see where we are coming from. My boss, who’s been using this for 6 years now, hands never thought to look at our profiles on how to best communicate with each of us, even though we all learned how to best communicate with him (he’s a “high D”–so direct ask in the first line, bullet points of extra information, follow up with email to verify you’ve completed HIS asks).

    3. A Person*

      I’m a very private person which has contributed to a reputation for being somewhat standoffish at my main workplace and this kind of sharing makes me want to go hide in a dark corner. The best thing you can do is approach your co-worker as you would any other staff member and let things go from there.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          ‘Intimate’ is a good insight.

          This is a group of people whose opinion matters (your future coworkers) but whom you don’t know. There’s no context for how they operate other than what they are choosing to share a la ‘Hi I’m Jane, and I like email and am good at details’ which may or may not be the things that are really going to matter when you deal with her–maybe what you really need to know is to never mention the Red Sox.

          OP, your actual questions can be answered by observation of working with her and by just directly asking. You seem to have latched onto the personality test, and apparently that’s been an efficient avenue for some people, but it’s not the only way to get these answers.

        2. Liet-Kynes*

          Yes, and it’s a forced, artificial intimacy with people one might not actually wish to be intimate with. And, given that these personality tests are about 80% pseudoscientific bullshit that return different results depending on mood and day, it’s often a false intimacy.

          LW, consider maybe pursuing more organic, authentic ways to team-build, and leave the Meyers-Briggs tests on the ash heap where they belong.

      1. Harper*

        I describe myself the same way and I think it’s accurate. I’m private. Not everybody has to the be the same. And that’s all I ‘m going to say or I’m going to go full on rant. :D

        1. Liet-Kynes*

          And when you’re a private person…you don’t necessarily WANT to be expected to disclose details of your personality for the edification of people you wouldn’t associate with voluntarily if there weren’t a salary involved. I don’t want everybody to know I’m an INTJ or whatever, and it’s not necessary to have that kind of intimacy to collaborate effectively.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I can never remember what those letters stand for anyway. I always see people on the internets saying “well, I’m an LMNOP so of course I feel this way” and I’m like… okay.

              1. Trillian*

                It’s from James White’s Sector General series (about a huge multi species hospital in space). All species have classifications that describes their physiology and environmental needs. That’s the classification for human.

    4. JamieS*

      I don’t think you’re an outlier at all. I think a lot of people (IMO the majority of people) aren’t comfortable going around a table sharing their weaknesses with coworkers. Especially when they’re a new team member and may not know their new coworkers well. I know if I were OP’s new employee my contribution to the discussion (if I made one at all) would be: leave me alone.

      IMO the company’s focus on the personality test results may be a bigger issue than the OP having a potentially standoffish managee. Personality tests can be useful in helping a person learn about themselves and I’m a big fan of people taking these tests in efforts to learn more about their own personality. However I don’t think they should be used in the workplace (excepting a few very limited circumstances) because they create preconceptions that aren’t always beneficial and may hinder an employee’s advancement even if that’s not the intention of the test.

      1. Mookie*

        Personality tests can be useful in helping a person learn about themselves and I’m a big fan of people taking these tests in efforts to learn more about their own personality. However I don’t think they should be used in the workplace (excepting a few very limited circumstances) because they create preconceptions that aren’t always beneficial and may hinder an employee’s advancement even if that’s not the intention of the test.

        Precisely this. Sharing assessments and scores, especially amongst peers, almost invariably creates a competitive, judgmental atmosphere, even when the results are more qualitative than quantitative and especially when the test is not measuring aptitude, skills, or experience (all of which can be gained or refined) but aspects of a person’s character, emotionally intelligence, and background that can’t be readily changed or trained ‘out of’ someone. Also, we all have our own opinions about what personality characteristics strike us as admirable and ideal; failing to live up to those according to a test, or discovering that our self-image differs radically from what a test purports to be the truth, can be devastating or embarrassing.

        1. JaneB*

          Yup! I was at an event recently where we all did a self-assessment test to see if we had Imposter Syndrome, and if so how strongly we had it – and people actually got COMPETITIVE about how badly they had it!

          1. Duck Duck Møøse*

            It’s great to know there is such a thing – I want to see how bad mine is ;) First one I found, I scored 63 out of 100.

            1. Duck Duck Møøse*

              Got 69/100 on another one – oh noes, I’m getting worse!! ;)
              (search for Clance IP Scale test)

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, this! And also Matilda Jeffries’ point about this person being relatively new to the team.

          I’m not opposed to tests per se—I think they’re sometimes shockingly accurate, sometimes off the wall wrong, but taking them usually reveals something useful for me to work on. That said, I almost always know what my weaknesses are, and I still hate having to process them in front of other people.

          And I really do worry about people hearing about part of the test and then assuming it’s true or accurate in other contexts. It becomes this fait accompli where your “personality” becomes a series of unchangeable “traits” instead of an evaluation of habits/practices that you can adjust as needed. Once it’s unchangeable, any number of very preventable/workable issues become rigid, permanent problems attributable to your “personality.” It’s really counterproductive and takes the focus off of what matters.

          1. Karen D*

            BINGO. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a crutch and a label. I’m all in favor of self-knowledge, but even the most valid, scientific assessments can become problematic in the hands of amateurs. I’m really uncomfortable with this kind of testing outside a therapeutic setting.

        3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I mean, I totally hear that workplaces often (maybe usually!) do a bad job with these, but I think it’s worth pointing out that OP mentioned specifically that these tests were brought in to fix specific problems in their workplace, and they seem to have worked exceptionally well, to take OP at their word.

          Definitely a fan of people not having to be uncomfortable at work! But a lot of this stuff is just as interpersonal as it is personal. As much as any given person might not like to do X with coworkers (and thus being exempted from it is a benefit to that person), it’s also a benefit to all your other coworkers to get to do X with you.

          In this case, where the team seems to build a lot of their communications around this assessment, I think AAM’s approach is exactly right; sure, the standoffish coworker doesn’t have to share their comms style at a big meeting, but they still have just as much responsibility to communicate well with their team, and it kind of sucks for the rest of the team that they have this well-understood and well-liked framework for communication and workstyles that this one person refuses to share. It’s not insurmountable, by any means, and Alison has a good script for how to go about figuring those styles out, but it’s also not like there’s no downside for the rest of the team from the co-worker opting out.

          1. JamieS*

            I read that differently. I don’t think OP said the assessments fixed problems but that the assessments were a useful tool in effective communication. Even if there aren’t any specific problems to point to, it’s still important for companies to strive to find ways to improve.

            Even if there were problems I wonder if it’s really the personality testing that fixed the issues or a change in attitude that led to the personality testing that fixed the issues. I’m not implying this is true of the OP’s company but in general if a company’s management had previously shown an unwillingness to care about employees thoughts/feelings/communication style/etc. (basically had a my way or the highway attitude) and then began making more of an effort to listen to employees that would solve a lot of communication issues with or without personality tests.

        4. JamieS*

          I didn’t even think about the results creating a competitive, judgmental atmosphere or being devastating/embarrassing to employees but that’s an excellent point. I was thinking more along the lines of Jane has aspirations to be a manager but her personality style isn’t one the hiring manager considers to be a good “management personality” so she faces significant road blocks trying to move her career trajectory towards that end goal or Billy is up for a promotion that would involve 99% independent work but his personality test shows he’s best suited for group work so he’s passed over.

      2. Matilda Jefferies*

        Especially when they’re a new team member and may not know their new coworkers well.

        This is important. As a new-ish employee, it would have been far easier – in the sense of not making waves, and fitting in with the team – to go along with what everyone else was doing and participate in the discussion. The fact that she chose to expend political capital on this, and risk being seen as “not a team player” (or, ahem, “standoffish”) pretty much from Day 1 on her new team, suggests that it’s a pretty important issue for her.

      3. Gadfly*

        Especially when an astrological chart in many cases would be equally accurate. In both circumstances because of how they are designed people are going to feel like a lot of it hits home even if it was secretly just pulled out of a hat.

    5. Gen*

      I always find these assessments and discussing them horribly stressful because my results are invariably wrong. But if everyone else is onboard then bringing up the errors ends up being interpreted as either insulting the organiser or being unwilling to ‘face the findings’. And I do mean really inaccurate, like classifying a social anxious introvert as a go-getting extrovert. It gets exhausting pretty quickly to fight against the flow if the rest of the team is already invested, so I’d rather say nothing and be seen as standoffish than be seen as delusional.

      The ones about communication styles also seem to miss disabilities so I end up with results that might well have been relevant once but are now a hindrance.

      1. Mike C.*

        I hate this so, so much. I’m not sorry that the data doesn’t support your model, but don’t blame me, blame your crappy test.

      2. Case of the Mondays*

        Also, our work personalities can vary greatly from our “off duty” personalities. Most people would think I’m an extrovert at work because I’m open and talkative and have to publicly speak regularly for my role. I recharge though by being alone, reading, watching TV, and doing other more “introvert” like things. In my off time, I want to be off, not socializing. It takes a lot of effort to get me to go out on a Friday night. I joke that I’m an extroverted introvert. Once you get me out, I’m happy to be chatty but my ideal night is home in my PJs with my pets.

        1. Carolyn*

          I am the same way! I am “on” at work, because that is what my job requires – I expect to be on so I am prepared to be on, so it works. But in my personal life, I expect to be “off” – I need to recharge and don’t roll with surprises or sudden changes of plans. I was once told I was selfish with my free time … I don’t think it was meant as the compliment I took it as! ;)

          A few Fridays ago we had a scheduled event at my office – I am mainly in charge of running these events and it is usually a long day where I am “on” – one of those days where someone who doesn’t know me would describe me as the friendliest and most outgoing person on the planet! A friend with young children (3 little girls) asked to change our Saturday night plans to Friday night – I normally keep Fridays clear as a reward for getting through the week, but I figured that eating sushi and drinking wine in her backyard after the kids were asleep wouldn’t be too taxing … but at the last minute she told me that another friend and (her 5 children) would be joining us as a surprise. I bagged it. I had been battling a really nasty flare up of my TMJ, it had been a non-stop week and all I wanted to do was hide instead of dig deep and try to be social. There is a big difference to an introvert like me between 1 adult and 2 adults … and an even bigger difference between 3 sleeping children and 8 children having a sleepover party … I love that other friend and her kids are great … but after a long week, especially on a particularly busy day, I left all my extrovert skills on the field and the reserve is empty!

          1. Karen D*

            I’m with both you and Case of the Mondays.

            Based on my work style, some work friends over the years have been surprised that I’m not more social. The reality is that I HAVE to be social to do my job well, but it drains my batteries faster on days when I have to be “on,” doing public speaking or a lot of phone work, and I need quiet alone time to recharge. (Well, not always so quiet, I will often have lively conversations with myself!)

          2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            Yes! This is so me. Before I had a full-time office job I thought I was more extroverted, because wqriting my dissertation I was reading and reflecting by myself with little interaction with other people of any kind. I enjoyed going out and being social for a bit at the end of the day/week. Once I started working 40+ hours per week with other people? None of my friends see me. It’s exhausting just to force myself to see those I truly care about on a semi-regular basis. I really really need the alone time on evenings and weekends to recharge.

        2. Mike C.*

          You know what really throws me on these tests? I’m both an extrovert and an introvert. Try and find room on those models for someone who isn’t one or the other, I still haven’t found it.

          1. Science!*

            My understanding is that introversion and extroversion refer to where you get your energy from. So you can be quiet and reserved but still get energy from being around other people, or you can be super outgoing, but need to spend time alone to recharge.
            My husband and I are both introverts because we need love hanging out with friends and family, but at some point we both need a break and time to ourselves. Meanwhile my son appears to be an extrovert because he wants to be around people all the time. His dream is for everyone to come visit and no one to ever leave. Which is my nightmare:).

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              You are correct–but also, it’s more of a spectrum than an either/or. Most people aren’t pure introverts or extroverts. Even people who need a lot of alone time to recharge (that’s me) sometimes need to be around others to get energized. I’m good with lots and lots of alone time, but not *only* alone time.

            2. Fiennes*

              Same here. I get introvert and extrovert results in about equal proportions. Tests don’t offer results for “really needs quiet time AND really needs social interaction.”

      3. Tuxedo Cat*

        I’ve taken some of these personality tests multiple times, and I get wildly different results with some of them.

        1. Collarbone High*

          Same! Most people don’t fit neatly into narrowly defined categories.

          I know it would make scoring harder, but I wish these tests had options for answers like “none of these apply to me” or “all of these apply to me” or “both a and c.” I especially dislike the “what is your ideal Friday night” type questions, because the true answer is “those all sound like fun, it just depends on a bunch of factors.”

    6. CJ Record*

      Agreed on letting it go, because I am absolutely one of those people that rolls my eyes at some of those personality tests.

      The other issue that might be at hand, above and beyond shyness, is they may not respect the assessment process for various reasons–for example, the dearth of academic research behind the MBTI. It’s very accurate for some people who take the long form test, but then again, a full-sky astrology reading is, too. Alas, while both assessments have lots of anecdata to support them, the lack of double blind research does get them discredited in some minds. The team member might be rating the personality test as accurate as a Buzzfeed listicle, but are trying to be too polite to say anything.

      1. OhNoNotAgain*

        Your results from those tests can change day to day, too, depending on your mood. I don’t see any value in them.

        1. Going anon here*

          Agreed. I had to take the Myers-Briggs in a university class once and found out that I’m split 50/50 on two different categories, so there’s technically four possible types I shift between and there was one classmate who would just not. let. this. go. Any time we were in a group for a project for the rest of the semester he’d try to figure out which type I was that day (think saying things like, “Oh, since you suggested X does that mean you’re more “thinking” than “feeling” right now?” ughhhhhh).

          Honestly that experience has completely turned me off personality assessments altogether, and I’d be very wary of a workplace that uses them heavily. I don’t need to be pigeon-holed by a test when I *know* that my result will be different the next day.

          1. Karen D*

            In that situation, I think a very direct “You keep doing this and I need you to cut it out,” said in a level but dead-serious tone, is perfectly appropriate. If the person persists, I probably would not escalate, but I would ignore them.

    7. Bookworm*

      Agree. I’m very private and I would probably not be comfortable sharing in a setting where I don’t know the people and would not be working with them.

      As someone who is very introverted, I’d probably like emailed questions that are specific to the project or task as they’re written, I have at least some time to consider my answers, etc.

      Any chance the OP knows anyone who did work with this particular person? Maybe could ask what is that person’s preferred method of communicating/ask for tips on how to interact?

      1. Carolyn*

        “As someone who is very introverted, I’d probably like emailed questions that are specific to the project or task as they’re written, I have at least some time to consider my answers, etc.”

        Also, when you ask people to send you questions in e-mail, sometimes you never get that e-mail because the act of typing out the question results in 1) the asker deciding that is too much work so they don’t waste your time with an unnecessary question or 2) they wind up figuring it out themself instead of just walking up to you and asking in the moment. I find that the questions I get in e-mail are better thought out and phrased making them easier for me to answer and I can give even better, more targeted and thorough answers!

        (It also doesn’t take me off task – I can answer e-mails when it makes sense for me to do so, I don’t get interrupted or break concentration!)

    8. Darcy*

      I agree here too. I’m a fairly introverted person and have always struggled with artificial team-building exercises at work, including personality assessments. I always find it much more comfortable and effective to allow work relationships to develop organically by working together. I’d recommend just working pleasantly with her and let the working relationship happen on its own terms.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I often joke that team building exercises help people bond over their hate of team building exercises.

        1. Pam*

          “Always be going to the bathroom during team building exercises.” BELLWETHER, by Connie Willis

          1. Esme Squalor*

            I love Connie Willis! I haven’t read Bellwether though. Thanks for inspiring me to add it to my list.

            1. kitryan*

              If you like this blog and other Connie Willis stuff, you will probably like it a lot

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        That’s how I feel too. My best work relationships have been built from working on actual projects. None have developed from some team-building exercise.

    9. JB (not in Houston)*

      I totally agree. I like taking those kinds of tests, but I wouldn’t want to share them with random coworkers (meaning, I have some friends who are coworkers, and I’d be fine with sharing with them, but not with people I’m not friends with). OP, you can get the information you are looking for by asking direct questions, as Alison suggested.

    10. Kyrielle*

      Also, while the assessments are often vague or targeted enough to apply, it’s possible that hers was wildly off what she believes to be true of herself (and maybe wildly off of who she is), in which case sharing it would also be counter-productive.

      Honestly, I might try something direct, though I’m not sure if it would be the right instinct. “I notice you didn’t speak up in the communications meeting. Since we’ll be working together, I’m interested in the best way of communicating and interacting with you – would you be willing to tell me what your preferences are?”

      Or something like that. Something that conveys “I just want to know what you want me to do to communicate with you, I don’t care about the results of the assessment.” (Because clearly, if she wanted to share those, she would have.)

    11. Kathleen Adams*

      I have no particular problem with the tests – assuming they are done well, they can provide some interesting and even valuable information. And I like people, and I like talking to people.

      But just the idea of a meeting in which we all sit around comparing our results makes me roll my eyes so far back in my head that I can see my own brain. And the reason is that it sounds like a huge (and invasive) waste of time. Nobody’s going to share anything too negative – nor should they be expected to – and if all they share is the stuff they can put a positive spin on, how is it going to be helpful?

      I think the OP would be better off if she deals with all of her coworkers, including the anti-personality-test one, in a more specific way. In other words, rather than “My test shows that I am an X-type, so I prefer working Y way,” just deal with specifics, e.g., “How do you like to work on projects? Should we plan on email updates as needed plus meeting face to face every other week? That would suit me, but what would suit you?”

      And I agree with everybody who has said you need to just ignore all that “stand-offish” stuff. As many people have noted, “standoffish” often = “shy” or even merely “not chatty.” Any anyway, it’s possible to be or seem to be standoffish and still be a good and useful coworker. So let that part goooooo.

    12. Lora*

      Yeah, this. I HATE those personality tests with the passion of 1000 burning suns. But I wouldn’t want to be the one person in the room to say, “why don’t you just read your horoscopes, this is a bunch of unscientific quackery, I’d rather have my tea leaves read because at least then I get a cup of tea”.

      Important things colleagues should actually know about me:
      -Those angry, bitter, hypersensitive, humorless feminists? That’s me. In fact, that’s me on a good day. You don’t want to know what happens if you make a rape joke when I’m having a bad day.
      -Do not ask me about my love life. It will get really awkward, really fast.
      -If you catch a glimpse of my tattoo by accident when I’m bending over or something, please do not comment on it. By which I mean, “What’s it of” is OK but “hur hur hur does that go ALL the way to your (body part)” is not. Just shush and we will all be happier.
      -Long hair, high heels and breasts do not make me stupider or less experienced than you. Really. I promise.

      Now, if personality tests could reliably identify raging a-holes, bullies and douchebags, THAT would be a welcome advance in workplace psychology. Not something people would want to share in a group meeting, but really useful from a management perspective: Big Chief would like to promote Sociopathic bully to management, but the personality test says that he is a sociopathic bully and therefore ineligible for promotion. You’ve just had Jerkface transferred into your group because he was about to be laid off otherwise, but it turns out Jerkface is a personality problem although his technical skills are fine – now you know ahead of time not to let him work on projects that require human interaction.

    13. MashaKasha*

      Yes, I would fake my own death to get out of that activity. I broke out in cold sweat just reading about it.

    14. Ol' Crow*

      Agree – these personality assessments, while true that they are insightful, seem extremely intrusive to me. Top that off with Horrible Boss actually using the results against me (she was really mad that money wasn’t my main motivator) and I won’t participate in them again.
      As for working with stand-offish co-worker – you really don’t need the ins and outs of this person’s personality to work well with her. I’ve worked with two different compliance officers in the past that were known to be really cranky, really difficult people to work with. But there’s no way around working with them closely. So with each, I determined to really get to know them. It meant using my listening skills to ferret out topics they might be interested in. Then ask questions, show an interest. We never became best friends, but we did end up friends and we enjoyed working together. No, it wasn’t easy, but it was doable and I think this is the best way to approach a person like this.

    15. Louise*

      Definitely, let it slide. Personality tests can be horribly exposing, even if you’re not put on the spot. I had to take part in a team-building session on personality styles which included physically moving into different parts of the room according to our personality type. I was the only one in my corner of the room, with most people clustered into the ‘outgoing’ corner. The managers spent the next ten minutes talking about how obviously they were getting their hiring right and hiring for a specific type of person, and wasn’t it great.

      I took it that I didn’t fit in with the team and they regretted hiring me, and went home and cried.
      (Having bad anxiety at the time probably didn’t help.)

  4. meagain*

    Pseudo-former rambler here….. My PI in grad school broke me of this habit. I’d assume a lot of things, like he’d remember what we talked about two days ago. Silly me. He’d make me leave the room, write a few sentences and then come back and focus on the true question at hand. He didn’t have the time to sort through what my actual question was and at the time, it was a bunch of painful lessons. However, it worked wonders in my last lab with my last PI. If rambler is a good employee, and you want her to improve, then draconian measures are what it will take. There’s really no way around it.

    We also had a pontificator in my old lab and people just shut that sh$t down quick after about 6 months. She’d have a simple question of where is X and it would take ten minutes to get to the question.

    1. PatPat*

      I work with a rambler. He’s also an interrupter. I had to shut him down one day when I was speaking to someone about a time-sensitive task and he inserted himself into the conversation to talk to my coworker about pizza. I said, “Please let us finish,” and he took the hint and left. I felt bad about it but my coworker and I didn’t have time to talk to him just then.

      When I have to talk to him I make sure I’m standing and have a reason to leave handy in my mind. He gives me waaaaaay more detail than I need or want and wastes my time so when I need to go I say, “Sorry. I need to run to court.” But I avoid talking to him whenever possible. It’s sad for him and for OP’s employee because I’m sure people avoid her too, which limits her ability to get information from other employees. Please coach her! It would be a real kindness.

  5. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 I have a colleague who cannot answer a simple question without explaining the entire history and context of the thing. If you try to cut in and redirect her to your question, she starts again from scratch.

    You: could we also make this teapot in green?
    Her: (entire history of why it’s blue)
    You: (second attempt to ask if it could be green)
    Her: we made the teapot blue because…

    It’s a bit like the workplace equivalent of a filibuster. I’ve had a lot of success with just asking questions by email instead. But I wish her manager (who is not me) would name the problem and actively coach her on it.

    You’re not your employee’s therapist and I think there’s a limit to what you can do to fix the root problem, especially if she also does this in her personal life. But you could coach her as described in the linked post.

    I wonder if it would be possible to meet one on one before key meetings and workshop her discussion points?

    1. Junior Dev*

      Workplace filibuster, that’s great. It really does have the same impact too.

      I have a co-worker like this. He has trouble understanding the scope of a question–someone will ask “where are you on XYZ?” and he’ll launch into a 5 minute detailed explanation of the most immediate issue he’s facing with XYZ rather than giving a quick summary of where the project is at and what remains to be done. Or someone will ask “can we do ABC?” and he’ll miss the implied follow up of “is it practical and desireable to do ABC?” and launch into an epic tale of how we might do ABC given unlimited time and budget with no competing priorities.

      Anyone have any practical suggestions on how to prevent this sort of thing and/or stop it from proceeding too long? To be clear, I don’t think he’s being intentionally disrespectful, I think he’s a very smart person who has trouble with communicating his ideas to others.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        My coworker definitely does this when she feels she’s being challenged. She hears “could this also be green?” as “I’m questioning why you ever made this blue in the first place”.

        My current not-great solution is to cut in with: “I understand that there’s a lot of back story about why it’s blue, but can you give me a quick yes/no/maybe on whether it could be green?” but that doesn’t work as she just doesn’t hear the question.

        Maybe I need to ask better questions…

        I’ve just been reading through a series of ‘you may also like’ links and found this great comment: https://www.askamanager.org/2013/05/how-to-help-an-employee-become-less-long-winded.html#comment-198015

        1. Tassie Tiger*

          What if you framed it in a, “Your work is great and we’d like even more of it!” way, by asking a question like, “The blue teapots are so popular. We think you could put your great style with a green teapot as well, is this feasible?”

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            Thanks for the suggestion. It wouldn’t exactly work here, but maybe starting with a compliment would help. However, I have limited mental energy for this and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

            I think that’s what OP’s rambler is missing, too: how energy-zapping it is, and generally what it’s like for other people to try to listen.

            1. Gadfly*

              I’ve found a lot of ramblers (though not all) are lonely. The rambling seems to be an (usually unconscious) attempt to connect. This type is particularly resistant to gentle hints.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I’ve found it’s often loneliness, defensiveness, or a heavy dose of impostor syndrome (i.e., insecurity). Or, sometimes it’s a symptom of outside stressors.

                It’s still exhausting for the person on the receiving end of the ramble, but I think it can be easier to deal with it if you can figure out the underlying trigger.

            2. Grapey*

              I’m often on the other side of your “can we make this green?” question and it’s energy sapping from my end too. Definitely ask better questions. At least add a quick WHY. It’s frustrating to play 20 questions with someone to tease out what they want.

              1. DDJ*

                “I want to make sure I’m giving you information that will be relevant. Can I ask what specific information you’re looking for, before I go into too much detail?”

                If you find yourself oversupplying more often than not, asking those clarifying questions up front is probably going to help. I work with a few people who tend to ask…very large questions, when they’re really looking for a very small answer.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I wonder why she’s acting from a baseline position of defensiveness. Figuring that out seems like the key to solving this problem.

          I actually see that a lot in the comments here, where someone will ask a sincere question and get tense responses from folks who assume that the question was intended as criticism. I’m not sure why it happens here; at work I can think of a lot if explanations (a critical boss, insecurity about one’s expertise, etc.)

          1. Elemeno P.*

            I get a lot of rambling from a defensive place, too. My job is to write standards that are created by multiple people who can’t meet up, so I act as the middleperson. I don’t care what the standards are: I just care that they’re in the right format and everyone has agreed on the contents. Every time I ask why they’re requesting something (so I can explain it to the other people reviewing), I am treated to an impassioned speech about the necessity of X standard and its history and how DARE anyone question the necessity of X standard. I have to politely tell them that I don’t care, and was just looking for “because Y.”

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’ve noticed that too, and I think—in the comment section, at least—it might be the lack of tone… although that doesn’t really explain the dynamic vis-a-vis regular commenters.

            I will say that I have asked questions very gently to people before and been hit back with a wall of defensiveness. I once had to stop someone who was working themselves into a lather of defensiveness mid-rant to say, “I’m so sorry—I’m realizing you heard my question as challenging you or your decisionmaking. I want to clarify that I’m asking because I want to have your back, and I need to understand what happened so that I can be prepared for when there’s push back from higher up.” That was 5 years ago, and I’ve not had a repeat problem, and the person is genuinely more pleasant for everyone to work with.

          3. Lissa*

            I see this on the Internet *all the time* and I think it’s a few things. For one, there is a common problem where somebody will “just ask questions” about a topic as a kind of concern trolling – this got noticed, but unfortunately now you have this thing where the only “OK” response is absolute agreement and sympathy. People take a question for more details as questioning the veracity of the story. I think the ability to screen out contrary opinions and “echo chamber” nature of a lot of our interactions online in general can mean a mildly contrary opinion “feels” much harsher than it might otherwise. I mean, I don’t have a ton of people on my social media accounts, for instance, who are likely to have opposite spectrum beliefs, so the only time I regularly see them is when people I already agree with are reposting “extreme” opinions to immediately tear them down. And a lot of forums have rules against certain opinions being expressed (which I’m basically fine with because I really don’t need to see the same argument time and time again about American politics or feminism or pineapple on pizza . . .)

        3. Natalie*

          YMMV, but when had a couple of co-workers like this, I found interrupting them and redirecting helped a lot. The trick is that I had to do it repeatedly in the same conversation, and also it took a long while for their conversational tendencies to change.

      2. paul*

        I’ve started answering by email as much as I can because it’s easier for me to avoid doing this. Is it possible to work with the person on something like that? Give her a chance to answer in writing? Some of us find it a lot easier to be succint that way. and failing all else we can at least edit our response for brevity.

    2. Mookie*

      Seconding the brilliance of a ‘workplace filibuster.’ It’s not always the explanation for a rambler, but some people definitely use the passive-aggressive veil of innocent blarney to silence criticism, pushback, and dissent. (Others do it because of a lifetime of having their every last decision scrutinized and undermined, and therefore approach all discussion and collaboration from that position of deep insecurity.)

    3. Katie Fay*

      I have a friend and former colleague who explained a contractor’s behavior beautifully: “For a Yes or No question, she’ll give you the history of plaid and explain why stripes are better.”

  6. Mean Something*

    OP #5: These requirements sound excessive to me–as in, I wouldn’t expect to receive these as a prospective participant–and I wonder if they’re concerned about being able to attract enough participants to the tour. Another possibility is that they’ve been burned in the past by guest lecturers who are focused on the free trip and not on the service they provide, and they want to make sure you’ve prepped something. If you can figure out if either of these concerns is paramount, you may be able to assuage the latter, or in the case of the former, decide how much work you’re willing to put in to make sure the trip isn’t cancelled.

    Asking for this content now, without alerting you earlier to the expectation, doesn’t speak well to their organization. Do you know anyone else who’s gone on one of these trips and could give you a sense of how the company rolls? Because it could be a marvelous experience or a giant headache!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      It sounds like they want web or brochure copy written which isn’t excessive in length but is work that should be paid for. Writing short sales copy shouldn’t be a quick rush job. Or something that’s done as a favour.

      I’d be wanting a timeline for anything they think they can expect from you. And if they want it quickly they should pay a rush fee. OP, no high-end travel company should be pressurising you for free sales copy at short notice. No way. You really should push back on this.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      PS it’s not a free trip! Let’s be really clear on that. It’s a work trip. OP is giving their time and expertise, for not much remuneration, even though the trip as planned won’t work without them.

    3. Jessica*

      Honestly OP #5 – just half-ass it! I am sure your standards are higher than they need to be. Take an hour one day and just rattle this stuff off. You can definitely adjust your lecture titles and content later, as the trip gets closer.

      1. Jessica*

        Also, for the reading list – I guarantee none of the people who take the trip will want to read 10 books about Korean teapots. Suggest 1 book and 2 articles – that is plenty!!

        1. the gold digger*

          Considering that my college charges thousands and thousands of dollars for those alumni trips (which is why I have never taken one), I think there should be enough money to pay someone to write the brochure, be it the LW or someone else.

          And it takes a lot more than 30 minutes to write good copy.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            This paid writer isn’t going to know what the OP is planning to talk about, so I think the OP is at least going to have to do that part. I’d say “I can provide you synopses of my lectures and a couple of suggested outside resources, but I am unable to create the rest of your brochure.”

            1. zora*

              I like the idea of giving them limited info you already have and letting them figure out how to flesh it out.

              You’ve done the itinerary, so a quick list of ‘these are the sites we will visit, and here are some links to resources/books where you can find more info about them.’ Plus a few things you have written in the past. And say “feel free to grab from these to create some brochure copy.”

    4. GrandBargain*

      LW doesn’t say whether the arrangements at this time are based on a verbal handshake or a signed contract. Since LW is an alum and a leading expert, it seems unlikely that the travel company will take all the free work and then renege on the deal. But, it’s still possible. Unless doing this additional writing somehow contributes to your own work or speaking, I’d be looking for a more formal agreement about compensation… and, I second comments made by Jessica and Rusty above.

  7. MommyMD*

    There’s no way to answer Q 1. Just be alert to your surroundings. No one here could possibly know. Perhaps ask security.

    1. Liane*

      “No one here could possibly know.”
      Of course we don’t know why Wallace was fired, if that’s what you mean. But OP1 isn’t asking that. She is really asking “Is it reasonable for me to want more information and if so who do I talk to and how?”

      1. paul*

        yeah and the answer there is probably. I mean it’s obvious that at least smeone is taking it pretty seriously, so what gives? at least distribute photos of the guy so people know who they’re looking for.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think MommyMD is saying a few things:

        1. Neither Alison nor anyone in the commentariat can advise OP#1 on how worried they should be, because
        2. None of us have any information/basis to advise, other than speculation. So,
        3. Speak to security, if OP is still feeling anxious.

        1. AMPG*

          Which is still a pretty unhelpful response, honestly. Several people have already talked about similar situations and what types of information might be reasonable to request from the company (for example, a picture, since the OP doesn’t know what he looks like).

        2. Kyrielle*

          But I think that’s a bit disingenuous; OP was not asking “absolute value, should I be worried?” OP was asking, “Based on this information, should I be worried enough to follow up?”

          Had the same question been asked and the email been sent but no increase in security (let alone police cruisers on site), I would lean more toward, “Probably not, but if you are worried, ask whether you should be – maybe they can set your mind at ease.”

          But in this case? “Should you be worried? It’s probably pro-active precaution, but police at both entrances complete with car is a stronger preventative measure than I’m used to seeing, so yeah, I’d be concerned. This is worth talking to HR about, and asking for his picture, so you can proactively protect yourself. The odds that anything will happen are still low, but what you’re observing says the company is concerned about something security-wise, which is a data point worth looking at.”

  8. Megan*

    I am OP2’s employee… I talk way too much and ramble. My boss similarly has tried to coach me but it’s automatic and I honestly don’t even recognize I’m talking too fast or rambling half the time. I am working hard to try and fix it. OP2 have you suggested some emotional integellence courses for your employee? My other issue (not sure if your employee has this issue) is I am wayyyy to blunt and been described as ‘bull in a china shop’. I am also doing some counseling courses – not because I want to be a counselor but to increase general interpersonal skills / EQ skills.
    The reason I ramble and talk too much/fast is ingrained in me (result of a not-overly-pleasant childhood). Not using that as an excuse but merely explanation and a reason as to why I can’t fix it as easily as others. My boss knows this too; we are very close and she is really excellent. She sent me an email the other week, all it said was ‘well done! You talked slowly and all relevant!’
    Anyone got any further advice for me?! I keep meaning to post in open post but I’m in Australia so I always miss it :(

    1. Megan*

      Ps – like OPs employee I know this will eventually hold me back. I am still granted opportunities as is now as I’m very good at my job but this particular unsavory habit of mine has got to go as I know I’ll never become a team lead without honing those skills.

      It’s funny I was about to write I was the high performer of my team but then if this was a question Alison might argue how could I be with this issue. (Like other people say ‘my boss rocks except for X’ and Alison says ‘well your boss doesn’t rock then’.) But I know I am (!) as people tell me all the time… my boss texted me the other night saying it scares her how far I’ll get if I just fix this one thing!!

      1. Kate*

        I would suggest two things. First, before you ask someone a question, have to speak in a meeting, whatever, write a little speech. Write exactly what you want to say, and how you are going to say it. Speaking as someone with a tendency to ramble and go into too much detail, this really helps. It makes me see how long what I am saying is, e.g. two paragraphs to ask if we should reorder decaf coffee, and it reminds me of what I really need to know from this person, and what they need to know to make the decision. Try to give less information, not more, and trust them to ask questions if they think they need more info.

        Second, if you have a phone and pants pockets, could you set a two minute timer on your phone, with a vibration alarm? This would force you to be aware of rambling, for example, if you feel the timer going off and haven’t asked your question yet, you will know you need to ask it now and then stop.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      Some suggestions:

      – Automatic doesn’t mean inevitable. For now, simply aim for awareness. Try to pay attention to what happens when you talk fast or ramble. What are you thinking, feeling and doing when it happens? If you try reflecting on this you may find you start to notice it more in the moment. But only do this if it feels safe for you. For some people it’s personal and needs to be done in therapy. For others it can be a workplace exercise.

      – Counselling/therapy training is brutally helpful for this (am not fully qualified and not practising, this isn’t professional advice, etc). When practising skills in class, we had to listen to feedback from ‘clients’ and observers without speaking. That was hard but taught containment. However, we also had to be in therapy ourselves and keep a journal so all that stuff had somewhere to go.

      – I hear you on the childhood stuff. Me too, though undoubtedly different stuff. Therapy taught me to separate my emotional and practical thought processes and, if needed, park my emotional needs to attend to later.

      1. Megan*

        Thank you so much! Really good advice.

        I like your ‘automatic doesn’t mean inevitable’. My other problem is I’m like a small puppy – over excitable! If I’m talking about something and get really passionate / excited etc my speed of speech races to levels that mean no-one can understand me! I don’t really notice as I’ve always spoken fast, but maybe its about changing my approach: noticing when other people start looking at me quizzically, for example.

        I was thinking of therapy as well to help curve this, given the childhood stuff, and its more deep-rooted behaviour than other peoples. I’ve also been looking into Graduate Certificates and Diplomas (something Australians can do at university after a degree) in Family Therapy as those sorts of workshops you’re describing are within those as well.

        Another fun offset from my childhood is I can’t hear the words “We need to talk. Let’s do it at 4pm tomorrow” without automatically thinking a boss is going to fire me or a partner is going to break up with me etc. Always worse-case, as all I heard as a child was ‘we need to talk’ because of something I ‘did’ (I use air quote as I never did anything, thanks emotionally abusive parents). So whenever someone says it I automatically go into a huge deep panic and start thinking about everything I’ve done wrong leading up to that moment. The rational side of me comes out sometimes, and thinks, well, I’m good at my job, it’s probably nothing, but the overwhelming sense of dread I can’t shake, and then I can’t focus as I think I’m about to be fired. I always bring it up in my first 1:1s at new jobs and say ‘I’d rather if you either just grabbed me in the moment, or mentally scheduled it for 4pm tomorrow in your mind but don’t tell me, as I’d rather not know’. 9 times out of 10 my boss gets it and only every now and then forgets! I’m getting better at it but I still usually think I’m about to be fired and fill up with dread :(

        1. JessB*

          What about just asking when you respond to the meeting request?
          ‘Sure, can I ask what this is in regards to?’
          That way you can be prepared. I have had to train myself out of similar worries, and I know a friend who worries about this really severely.
          It’s just about recognising those irrational thoughts, and reminding yourself of the actual situation.

          1. Megan*

            Yep you’re right, ‘the actual situation’. And asking about the content has the added benefit of looking like you want to prepare :D

          2. Em*

            If someone says to me “We need to talk” and they sound at all serious, I almost always respond with “good or bad?” Sometimes people sound really serious, but it’s pretty rare that it’s ever anything bad.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          I had awesome boss who understood I got nervous – even in the few minutes to walk to a meeting room – and always said something like “Can I have a quick word? Nothing bad!”

          1. Megan*

            Yep my boss has started to do that for me too! And it’s right – normally it is ‘nothing bad’ just stuff that shouldn’t be broadcast in an open plan office!

        3. RabbitRabbit*

          I totally get the last feeling; I’ve had a number of bosses, etc., who would set meetings without a topic and leave me in agony. I had one situation where I had someone from Compliance ask to schedule a meeting with me for after the upcoming holiday weekend and I replied back (I knew this person somewhat, so I felt comfortable being more informal) jokingly to the effect of “oh great, that’s not nerve-wracking at all to see before a long weekend.” She replied back with “I promise you’re not in trouble! It is confidential, though.” I’ll admit it didn’t completely relieve my stress but it did help a lot.

        4. fposte*

          Or finding a template of what you *do* want to do rather than simply identifying what you don’t. Who is a good communicator in your office? At what rate do they speak? Can you get that rhythm in your ear and try to match yours to it? How many sentences or minutes do they take to convey a question or an answer in various situations? Can you take that as a target, and pause before you answer to map out bullet points you’ll follow? A lot of times people ramble because they don’t feel like they’ve said what they need to say. Can you post-mortem a few recent rambles to figure out what it was you needed to say, when you got to it, and whether you could have got there earlier and stopped?

        5. Wild Feminist*

          Hey Megan, for what it’s worth, you sound like someone I’d rather work with than a lot of the other a holes I’ve had to work with. I love it when I can feel enthusiasm and excitedness from others. I’m kind of sorry that you’re getting so much feedback to “fix” your personality at work. Keep on keeping on, and remember that you’re awesome as you are, even as you’re working on bettering some things.

        6. Ramona Flowers*

          Oh me too. My manager knows to say “can I pick your brain on a work matter” or similar and never just that we need to talk.

        7. Lora*

          Holy cannoli, are you me?

          I used to ramble a lot. Mostly because both as a kid and early in my career I had to justify myself extensively (and sometimes still do) while men’s statements were accepted unquestioningly.

          What changed was seeing other (usually younger) women doing it and realizing that I sounded extremely insecure (because I was) and annoying (probably was that too). And I tried flatly stating things and then if there was an awkward silence, it’s not my job to fill the silence up with talking. People can sit there and stew in their awkward sexism, it’s not my problem. If they have specific questions, trust that they will ask. And they did, and everything was fine. I did get a lot of “you talk like a guy / you have a guy’s personality” type of feedback all of a sudden, but whatever.

          I still hate the “we need to talk” thing. Had multiple bosses who inevitably meant “I need to yell at you and make many loud, angry, rude personal comments about a thing which may or may not be justified, then snarl a backhanded compliment through gritted teeth”. That stuff is traumatic. And also the people who need to talk at some future time to tell me they are breaking up with me / have been cheating on me / accidentally killed my pet while I was away / need to borrow money / need a ridiculous favor / etc. If it was something good or neutral, they’d just say “hey, I wanted to bounce some ideas off you about X, can we get together later?” or “you did a great job on the Johnson account, I wanted to go over some of the details with you when you get a chance”.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I did get a lot of “you talk like a guy /

            “Aw, dang it. Did I talk about my penis again?”

        8. kitryan*

          I’m seeing myself in what you’re describing as well. My best strategy is, as some have said, to plan out in advance my main statement-1 or 2 sentences- and the backstory- same thing- and answers to the most likely couple questions- everything short and sweet, then start with the main statement and see *if* follow up is needed before continuing. It’s a work in progress and I am good at keeping most of my emails brief and to the point, so it’s nice that email is the preferred method at my office.
          Something that drives me batty though is my family often takes ‘correcting’ me too far and will cut me off right away, often when I’m a just a couple of words from being done. It’s really tough for me to not complete the thougth and constantly being cut off makes me feel like my contribution to family talk is not valued, even when I am being brief and to the point.

    3. ..Kat..*

      I have a problem with being too blunt. Is there anything in particular that is helping you with this?

      1. Megan*

        Not as yet. :/ I’ve always been this way. I never sugar coat. I remember years ago in a creative writing class I had teachers pull me aside to tell me not everyone accepts critism on their work as well as I do and I need to tone it down. I was like… but if it’s bad I’m not saying it’s good.

        Honestly I don’t know if this is helping or not but all I’ve been doing recently is over compensating and I guess in turn talking *even more* to lessen the blow of whatever I’m saying.

        Nb: not good advice! Don’t listen to me! Haha

        1. Sutemi*

          Blunt in an adjective that can describe both critique and compliments. Do you give blunt kudos when things are done well?

        2. fposte*

          I like Anne Lamott’s reminder that you can point with the sword of truth as well as cut. “But if it’s bad I’m not saying it’s good” is focusing on you, not the recipient, in a conversation that’s about the recipient. So what is the most useful thing you can say to this person and what way can you phrase it that it will be most actionable and most heard? Talking about somebody’s writing is a particularly good case study, because if you’re a decent writer yourself, you have more in your armory than “this is good” or “this is bad” and understand the power of words is greater than merely the information they convey. That’s not “sugar-coating”; that’s the challenge of effective communication.

          If you aren’t bothered by blunt negative feedback, that does make your challenge a little greater since you can’t just go by what you’d be okay hearing. So think about other feedback and communication dynamics you’ve encountered and how effective they were with their recipients–it could be useful to emulate those to see if that gets better results. But really, let go of the literality bias where anything other than the negative message as “sugar-coating”–the goal is the *effect* of your words, not the purity of your content.

          1. Risha*

            I’ve found that a lot of blunt speakers are black and white thinkers, so to them saying anything indirectly feels like lying. The challenge for them is to really internalize that saying “that’s crap” is not equal to telling the truth, and saying “I liked the idea, but I didn’t like X, Y, or Z and your prose needs some polish” is not being disingenuous or fake.

        3. Liet-Kynes*

          “I never sugar coat. I remember years ago in a creative writing class I had teachers pull me aside to tell me not everyone accepts critism on their work as well as I do and I need to tone it down. I was like… but if it’s bad I’m not saying it’s good. ”

          Talking even more is probably unlikely to soften the blow. It probably just comes off as more condescending, honestly, as I imagine it comes off rather like “Your work is bad and you should feel bad, so let me treat you to a 10-minute lecture on why it’s bad.”

          There’s a difference between not saying it’s good and saying it’s bad. There’s a difference between sugarcoating and framing criticism in a constructive and thoughtful way that isn’t insulting. And there’s a difference between accepting criticism well and letting someone be mean to you.

      2. Blue*

        I have the bluntness issue, too. I’m better about being mindful of it since a former colleague gave me a nudge about it. I tend to jump straight to, “Here are the problems we’d need to address in order to operationalize your idea,” and I didn’t fully recognize how discouraging that might be for other people. I respected that colleague a lot and would never want her to get the impression that I thought her ideas were bad ones (they weren’t), so her saying something really made an impact.

        Now I really try to soften my feedback to peers, which is often accomplished by articulating my full thought process rather than just skipping to the critical part. Like, “I really like your idea about Y. I’m not sure the proposed timeline makes sense because of X, but maybe we could roll Y into project Z instead?” or “Hmm, that’s interesting. I’d be a bit concerned that might lead to X, but what about [variation on the original idea]?”

        I still screw up, but I generally recognize it as soon as it comes out of my mouth and try to fix it. Just last week, I had to amend a comment during a staff meeting because it came across far too dismissively, and I stopped by that coworker’s office immediately after the meeting to apologize for sounding so harsh. It’s a work in progress.

        1. Liet-Kynes*

          “I tend to jump straight to, “Here are the problems we’d need to address in order to operationalize your idea,” and I didn’t fully recognize how discouraging that might be for other people.”

          No offense, but how could you possibly not?

          1. A Girl Has No Name*

            I can’t speak for Blue, but as someone who sometimes does this, it’s not coming from a place of negativity. In my case, the fact that I’ve jumped to operationalizing the idea and solving for the challenges means I like the idea and think it has potential. It’s actually often intended as “yes, and…”. There is also an efficiency component to this tendency – if someone has a fantastic idea, but practically speaking it will mean moving heaven and earth to make it happen, and the person who came up with the idea didn’t realize that, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time on the idea until we figure out if we actually can move heaven and earth. In that same vein, I tend not to take it personally when some do the same with me.

            That said, because I know I have this natural tendency, I make deliberate effort to ensure that before launching into the feasibility and/or planning phase of an idea, I acknowledge that the thought/idea/suggestion is good (sometimes it is as simple as excitedly saying “Yes! And…”)

            1. Liet-Kynes*

              And like I said, that all seems perfectly reasonable and straightforward to you, and you believe that your approval is implicit, and you’re moving on to efficiency, but you’ve GOT to soften that at least a little with “That’s a great idea and I think we can operationalize it! My first thought is that we’d run into X, Y, and Z issues, but I think the idea is ultimately feasible if we work those out,” or something.

              1. A Girl Has No Name*

                It sounds like you are offering a counterpoint to my comment, and I’m not sure if you didn’t read my comment all the way, but I am agreeing with you. Completely. In my final statement I confirm that I do just what you suggest (I offered a super simple example of one way that can be done, but I thought it was clear that that was just an example. Sometimes, yes, it needs to be more than “Yes! And…”).

                That said, your follow-up question to Blue was “How could you not [realize this]” so my response was more to give you some context for the thought behind the action. I was not suggesting that I didn’t see the need/value for a softer approach (or that I don’t take a softer approach myself), just helping to clarify the insight behind why some folks may not immediately recognize this.

                1. Liet-Kynes*

                  I’m sorry, I my phrasing sucked. Yes, I was building off what you said, and I just wrecked the wording.

      3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        I am way too blunt, but I had an awesome boss/mentor that I learned a lot from. The best thing I learned was to say “I’m concerned about Y if we proceed with X.” Then wait. Just see what they say. Also, there is almost always *something* positive that can be said. Even if it’s just “I appreciate the time/thought/whatever that you put into this” when you can’t use their idea at all or have to go in a completely other direction.

      4. Dinosaur*

        When you’re giving feedback, it helps if you can make it non-judgmental and as data focused as possible. Rather than saying “I think that idea is impossible and won’t work for $$ reasons,” you can say “That sounds expensive. We’d have to bring on 2 new positions to implement that and that money wasn’t in the budget for this year.” If someone is turning in a subpar project, you can frame the feedback against the requirements from the vendor. “This looks really sloppy” can turn into “Is this the final draft? If so, Vendor needs X and Y to be more polished before it ends up in their hands (insert actionable feedback).” By moving away from evaluative statements and including data/fact reasons as to why you’re saying what you’re saying, it reads as less blunt while still making your point clear.

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Have you read Thanks for the Feedback? I think it can be helpful for getting out of your own head and realizing how words affect others.

        I think that also sometimes people conflate being direct with being blunt. You can be direct and still kind, but it takes a great deal of practice if it’s not your natural way of communicating.

        In addition to the excellent advice about literally hearing yourself in the moment, it can also help to change the order of operations as your brain is processing your key points. I try to get people to start with asking themselves, “What is the project/purpose?” Then they confirm that that’s the recipient’s project/purpose, too. Once there’s alignment on the issue, and once you identify why you’re responding, the next step is to ask yourself, “What are the key points I want to communicate?” Next, it’s “what is the most effective way to communicate those points to this specific person?”

        The important thing is not to think about how you would feel receiving the feedback, but how others would feel. It reminds me a little of the SNL “Debbie Downer birthday” skit—the goal is to communicate information without destroying everyone else’s day.

      6. LQ*

        The thing that’s really helped me is realizing it’s not about me, it’s about them, or at work it’s about the customer. What I want is to be effective, if I’m not being effective when I’m blunt then I need to change my behavior. Bluntly, what you are doing isn’t working so knock that shit off, figure out what works and do that. If someone needs sugar to take their medicine then you do what needs to be done to get them their medicine. Make it work. If your way isn’t working (because it isn’t changing what needs to be changed) then you are wrong and not doing your job.

        1. Em*

          No kidding. The number of times a man has been angry at me for telling him something using the EXACT SAME WORDS that he used when speaking to me . . .

          1. Em*

            Oop, I meant that as a reply to Kat’s comment below about bluntness in a man being admired.

      7. ..Kat..*

        Thank you everyone for the advice. I will be using these suggestions going forward.

        One aspect I struggle with is that if I were a man, my bluntness would be admired as directness. I shouldn’t have to bow and scrape and be obsequious because I am female.

        1. Chomps*

          “My bluntness would be admired as directness.” To some people. Other people would think “that guy’s an asshole.”

    4. Mookie*

      I’ve gradually worked my way out of a similar habit, and the advice in this thread is excellent.

      I took the thing in stages, and one of the first was to listen to myself (it’s weird, because bad listeners impatient when other people are speaking are also pretty rotten at listening to themselves and can rarely even remember, with much accuracy, what it is they just said) closely and stop speaking often, sometimes far too early. I’d pause for a beat, and then ask my interlocutor “does that make sense? Does that answer your question?” Staunching the flow is painful when we’re on a logorrheic roll, but it’s important to practice empathy at work; your colleagues are not audience members in the play that is your life and there’s generally an end-point, solution, or conclusion you’re both trying to reach in functional, non-recreational discussion. Don’t step on their lines and allow them to demonstrate agency in making conversation a two-way street. Sometimes people word-vomit when someone has asked a hazy, overly broad, or ignorant question; tightening up and shortening your answer allows them to rephrase when necessary so that the dialogue can move forward.

    5. Dee-Nice*

      Sometimes I give too much detail too, as a result of my unpleasant-ish childhood, but I don’t know if your reason is the same as mine. My narcissistic parent makes everything about her and takes offense at everything, so I always felt compelled to explain every. single. detail. and choose my words with microscopic care to avoid getting taken to task for perceived slights.

      Long story short, I had to learn to trust that people weren’t all like my mother, could tell I was a well-intentioned, intelligent person, and could read between the lines for small details, or ask questions if they needed more than I was giving. This was hard. I still work on it. But for me, the perspective adjustment had to come first to ground the behavioral adjustment.

    6. Gloucesterina*

      This is an interesting set of questions–one that I’ve asked myself is something like “Are there people in my life whose manner of communicating with others (others could mean me or people other than me that I’ve observed them interacting with) that I really admire?” Once I’ve answered some version of this question, the people often sort in my head into two buckets: (1) people I admire but don’t see myself emulating for one reason or the other; and (2) people I admire and whose way of making sure that the other person is understanding and taking away what they need from the conversation is really something I take as a model?

      For me, what I learned from consciously being aware of model communicators in my life often included non-verbal signals of checking in with the person, like looking into their eyes from time to time, pausing, and asking them an open-ended question, such as “Is this feedback chiming with your sense of things, or do you hear anything different or surprising?”. I teach, so this last type of question is really important in my interactions with students. I imagine another person’s key question might be very different of course, depending on your role in the conversation/field!

  9. Magenta Sky*

    OP 1: I’d be very surprised to hear that any police department in the United States has the resources to station officers at a business full time for a week, unless they have a credible and serious threat. Were I you, I’d be very, very concerned, and very, very insistent on more information. Probably to the point of quitting on the spot if it wasn’t forthcoming. That really isn’t normal procedure.

    OP 3: I’m not aware of a single personality profile system that has been subjected to peer reviewed science. And many of the companies that publish them have been known to use lawyers to prevent such research from happening. Yeah, some of them are, in general, fairly accurate in generalities – in the way any good cold reading mentalist is, and yeah, that can be useful – until you run into someone it’s not accurate for, or someone who just don’t buy that they’re useful. I personally hate them, because they’re never very accurate for me.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      I’m wondering if the use of campus in the letter meant it was a college / university and they weren’t officers from the local police department. Either way I agree that they must be taking the threat seriously and employees should be given more information about what has gone on.

      1. blackcat*

        This is certainly possible. My university has a university police department. They’re real cops–they can arrest people but then hand those people over to the city that they were arrested in (university is large, has multiple campuses in multiple towns). At the same time, they are also the people who will drive undergrads home late at night if they feel unsafe or the weather makes things dangerous.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        It’s possible, but places with multiple buildings use “campus” too- think Google.

        1. OP #1*

          @Jessesgirl72: Yes, I meant a business campus, not a university campus. We have multiple buildings, a hiking trail, some open ground, etc. I haven’t been to college for a while, so the other meaning for campus didn’t occur to me.

      3. BananaPants*

        Not necessarily. Large companies have corporate campuses with multiple buildings in an area. I work on one! We have a corporate security group that includes armed security personnel. They patrol in marked vehicles plus a bike patrol. Due to the executives present and the sheer number of employees here, security has a strong working relationship with the local police.

        1. OP #1*

          We have security people, but I don’t know if they’re armed or not. I only ever see them behind the front desk.

          I hope they’re armed!

    2. NYC Redhead*

      Some police departments will provide security services for a fee so this may be a step the company is willing to pay for.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yes, but the level of threat that causes an employer to hire off-duty LEOs as private security is lower than the level of threat that causes on-duty LEOs to park outside your building.

          (Of course, neither of these is a level of threat I find acceptable!)

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            I think your comment hits an issue that’s bugging me with this question. “A level of threat I find acceptable.” If someone has threatened your workplace, that’s not your work’s fault necessarily. It sounds like they are taking appropriate security measures. Are you saying that if they told you about the threat, you would decide to not come to work? They can’t have everyone just not coming to work. Would you quit over it? I think the employer may also want to avoid gossip, speculation and panic. Taking some extra precautions while keeping the details private doesn’t sound that crazy to me. I had one client fire someone and just feel a little concerned even though there were no threats. They hired a detail officer for a couple days just to feel a little extra safe. They didn’t tell their employees because that implies they considered the ex employee a threat. Since he never threatened anyone, that could damage the ex employees reputation.

            I do agree though that employees should know who no longer works there. Someone disappeared from my husband’s work. They thought he was on medical leave. They work in a secure building. They wish they were informed that he was not welcome in the building as anyone could have just held the door open for him if he returned. Also, people were contacting him asking how he was doing and they would not have been if they knew the true details of why he wasn’t there.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Are you saying that if they told you about the threat, you would decide to not come to work?

              No, I’m saying that I didn’t want to give the impression that I’m totally cool with anything that doesn’t trigger a police response. I wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t saying “these might just be police hired as private security, so it’s no big deal and you should get over it.”

            2. Magenta Sky*

              If someone has threatened your workplace, that’s not your work’s fault necessarily.

              It’s not mine, either. And whether it’s their fault or not, it’s their responsibility.

              It sounds like they are taking appropriate security measures.

              That’s where I disagree. Withholding too much detail is not appropriate.

              They can’t have everyone just not coming to work.

              That’s their problem. I’m not willing to die for my job. Period. To even suggest that I should (when I’m not a police officer, soldier or fireman, or in any other job where it *is* part of the job) tells me you aren’t qualified to employ me.

              Telling everyone to “keep your eyes open” is helpful. But there’s a big difference between “keep your eyes open for a guy you might vaguely recognize from having seen him in a hallway, who doesn’t belong here any more” is very different from “keep your eyes open for a rented panel van that’s riding heavy on its suspension out in the parking lot.” Even the presence of police in marked police cars (and there’s no reason to assume from the original letter they were hired by the company – they could just as easily be there on the department’s dime) isn’t necessarily enough to make me willing to continue showing up. A marked police car might well be enough to deter a workplace shooting, but if the threats were of a more, say, explosive nature, I’d still be very reluctant. And how long will the cops be there? Will it be “until the guy’s arrested?” If not, what happens when they’re gone, and he’s still pissed off enough to make threats? These are all questions I’d want an answer for. And not providing that kind of detail is *not* an appropriate response.

              (We should keep in mind that we’ve only heard one side of this, and that side admittedly poorly informed.)

              1. a different Vicki*

                I think most of us are willing to take some risk in order to get to work, and school, and so on. There is a very small but nonzero chance of injury or death in every car, train, bus, or bicycle journey.

                Thus, the practical questions are (1) How much has the risk increased? (2) What if anything can I do to reduce the risk to myself? and (3) Are those things worth doing? The answer to (3) is going to depend on some combination of how much you’d be reducing the risk, and how difficult, expensive, or inconvenient it would be to do so.

                If you said “would you die for your job?” few of us would say yes (and I am grateful to the firefighters and other emergency responders who have knowingly accepted that risk). But people do take risky jobs: they drive taxis, treat people with infectious diseases, and work the night shift in convenience stores.

                The problem here, as you say, is lack of information. The nurse working in the ER during a flu epidemic probably doesn’t worry about a car crash on her way to work, and the taxi driver doesn’t expect to catch a serious disease from a passenger.

                1. Chinook*

                  “(when I’m not a police officer, soldier or fireman, or in any other job where it *is* part of the job) ”

                  Actually, of those three, only one of them has an expectation that you could be ordered to die for your job – soldier. Police officers and firemen are not required to knowingly put themselves in life threatening situations and, at least in Canada, cannot be ordered to do so. They may choose to do so, but it is also their responsibility to ensure that they are not adding to a body count.

              2. OP #1*

                @Magenta Sky: I was wondering what happens when the police are gone too. (I didn’t see them today.) If someone was planning on doing something violent, they’re probably motivated/angry/crazy enough that they won’t mind waiting a week for police to leave (or maybe waiting several weeks when everyone’s guards are down).

          2. FormerLEO*

            Not necessary. I’ve parked outside an office to try and arrest plenty of non-violent felons

            Everyone is assuming a threat was made. All we know is fired + let us know + cops present.
            I can think of tons of scenarios (e.g., fraud, running a gambling mill, being a material witness in an FBI case) where the cops might be there for so long but there is no danger to OP

            1. OP #1*

              @Former LEO: I hadn’t considered that police might be present for reasons besides a threat of violence. Is it common for fired felons to come back to their place of work? Seems like it would be a bad idea for them.

              1. FormerLEO*

                More than you might think.

                A lot of people who flee or fail to show up to court get caught bc they go back to old haunts.

                The main point still stands: you don’t have enough information. That’s not ok

      1. Magenta Sky*

        That usually doesn’t include police cars, and still says the company feels there’s a real threat.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Sometimes it does involve police cars. My hometown 24 hour grocery store hires off-duty cops for their late night security, and they park their police cars in front of the store while they are there.

          The car itself is a deterrent. It’s the same reason police departments often park cruisers at construction sites or other places they just want people to slow down- they seldom ticket anyone, and just their presence makes most people stick closer to the posted speed limit than they would otherwise.

        2. Floridanon*

          It does in my city. There’s a section on the city website dedicated to the policies and process for hiring off-duty officers

        3. FormerLEO*

          Again, why? So we know the company feels this or only they want him caught?

          This level of response seems more like nonviolent fugitive than it does violent threat to me.

          In the violent threat cases, this seems a bizarre under-reaction, but spot on if the dude is fle one a serious, but not violent, felony.

          1. OP #1*

            @FormerLEO: So if this seems like a non-violent threat level response, what is the usual response for the violent threat circumstances?

            Thanks for your expert perspective!

            1. FormerLEO*

              Are they checking ids at the door? Controlling the entrance?

              Are they hanging back and observing?

              If you wee a cop, where would you set up a “choke point” to ensure no one gets through w a gun? Are they there? Or away from it?

              Also, if there was a violent threat, he should have been arrested for that at the time and not merely fired

    3. Katie Fay*

      1. A business can pay a local police department for a ‘Detail.’ You pay for a presence (US bars do it all the time, I’ve seen it at a funeral home, too). This employer may feel threatened and paid for the police presence.

    4. FormerLEO*

      It might not be a threat. It could also be the guy committed a very serious non-violent felony and they are trying to catch him if he returns to work to get his stuff or get paid.

      I have actually seen a similar situation where the police presence freaked everyone out, but they were just trying to catch a guy who had embezzled about 10 million USD.

      OPs story could be a threat of violence or it could be an attempt to catch a fugitive. There’s a lot of conclusion jumping and very little evidence.

      Also, depending upon the situation, the bosses may not have been told why the cops was the guy.

      His firing may or may not be related to the cops being there.

      I’ve seen people fired for getting arrested or having cops show up at their workplace.

    5. Chomps*

      The NEO-PI has, I presume. It’s the most commonly used personality test and is used widely in peer-reviewed articles about all sorts of things.

  10. Yet one more lawyer*

    I’m guessing the personality test is Discovery Insights or Ecolors. Both seem to be popular now.

  11. Blurgle*

    OP #3: Your employee might see this personality test as insulting pseudoscientific quackery and might have been quietly enraged to have been forced to participate in what she considers con artist anti-science nonsense. That is how I’d feel, since none of these tests have been subjected to peer review. I might not openly seethe but if participation was optional I’d be as forthcoming as a stone too.

    1. Amelia*

      This. I would absolutely not want to participate in something like this as a manager or team member. I’d go along with it if it were non-negotiable, but internally I’d lose respect for the person whose idea it was.

    2. Excel Slayer*

      I have these feelings. I really wish I would have the guts to stay absolutely silent through something like that, although I know I’d be quietly annoyed at whoever decided it was a good idea.

      OP3 – Maybe wait until you’ve worked with this new team member for a little and then see what you think of her?

    3. paul*

      Ditto. AFAIK none of those profiles–Meyers-Briggs, StrengthFinder, whatever–that companies seem so fond of are peer reviewed or well regarded by actual psychologist so…

    4. Elemeno P.*

      I really did not enjoy the time we had to participate in DISC, and I’m usually all about teambuilding stuff. It just seemed like a mixture of incredibly obvious and also limiting. The takeaway is that different people need to be managed differently, which….duh. People don’t fit neatly into a jar of This Type Of Person and I didn’t like the implications that they did. Just get to know the people you’re managing!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think some people genuinely don’t get that there are different ways to approach something–taking the golden rule too far and figuring that if they hate (or love) daily in-person check-ins then everyone must hate (or love) daily in-person check-ins. Or they have a vague sense of different styles and the test can provide a framework for understanding them. (For context, I found a learning styles test really useful when my son was 10–he took it at school and then asked me to take it. We were in opposite quadrants. It gave some specifics about the approaches that worked with different people, which made it a lot easier to explain math things to him in a way that resonated. We’re both very good at math, but we don’t follow the same path to tackling a problem. I think he’s a bit of an outlier there compared to how his father, sister, and I work, so a bit of outside perspective on learning styles helped.)

        All that said, OP seems to have really latched onto the test as The One Thing. Which is an ironic outcome to a test designed to different but equally valid approaches.

    5. Drea*

      Also, if you’re someone who is good at taking tests, it’s easy to make the result whatever you want it to be.
      Or, just lie about your results and tell people it was whatever would make it easier to deal with them and/or get you ahead and/or make you look good.

    6. The Strand*

      Some personality tests have indeed been subjected to peer review. Repeatedly. And many of the “new” ones actually are based on measures such as the MBTI and Keirsey sorter. There are definitely questions about validity and reliability of these tests. But it is not true that none have been tested.

  12. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP3 – many of the tests – including the one I work in IT for – specifically have it as a requirement for the people who administer the test to ensure that participation is voluntary (and will call a halt to feedback if person answering says their manager told them to) and that confidentiality is guaranteed. So someone not sharing doesn’t strike me as odd in the slightest!

    1. MashaKasha*

      Thank you, I was wondering about the confidentiality piece. Whether these tests are accurate or not, they do sound like they’re extremely personal. I was honestly surprised to learn that this boundary-crashing, “let’s sit all new hires and their managers around a table and have the new hires read their test results aloud and have the rest of the group comment on them”, team exercise exists, and is apparently “well-received in the company”. The only way to make this environment relaxed for me would involve lots and lots of alcohol.

      I’ve got to give OP3’s company credit in that they do allow the participants to choose what they do or do not want to share. But what happens if someone’s honest answer to what they want to share is “nothing”?

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        It does vary from test to test, but the ones we do are pretty hot on it. Doesn’t mean that the company itself isn’t putting pressure on employees, but there’s a limit to what we can do to ensure it other than repeat it to both company and employees.

  13. beetrootqueen*

    Op2 with the employee when coaching her for this don’t just punish her for rambling but reward the good. Draconian measures do work for this but it’ll be difficult and very demotivating for her it’ll seem very very personal to her so reward the good. Otherwise you’ll end up with someone either afraid to speak or she’ll leave

  14. hbc*

    OP1: I’m not understanding all of the comments demanding more information. There are police all around, and they don’t generally show up because a business says, “We fired a guy, and he had stolen some money, so we’re afraid he’s going to come back and steal again. He acted just fine in the termination though so we’re not worried about anyone’s safety.”

    I mean, you can be pretty certain he made a threat. I’m just not sure what you would do differently if given more information about the type of threat. Just be more aware of your surroundings in general, review things like evacuation routes, make sure you know what he looks like, and know that it’s very unlikely that you’ll need to actually use any of this information.

    1. New Bee*

      Well the reason Wallace was fired is unknown to the OP, and I think it’s reasonable for her to want to know the nature of the threat, both out of normal human curiosity and to better inform how she should stay safe. The circumstances are unknown to us, but there may be other factors like proximity to her home community (I’d be concerned if there was a possibility I could run into him to and fro), what to tell students (OP says she works on a campus, so maybe there’s a duty to protect there), the specificity of the threat (“you’ll be sorry” vs. “I’m going to X you”), etc.

      Basically, I don’t see a disadvantage to seeking more information, nor do I think it’s strange to have questions about something as conspicuous as increased police presence. Some of the comments (not singling yours out) are being strangely dismissive of her for even asking (and I think Alison’s response to the underlying question is great).

      1. hbc*

        I don’t think it’s strange to wonder, but “normal human curiosity” is not something that should enter the equation when dealing with HR or security. As for the other factors, I guess I’m just not buying it. OP didn’t ask about students (and there’s usually a script of what to tell students that has *less* details than staff are given), they’re not going to give you the home address or even city of a former employee, and if they had useful specific details (“I know how to rig a car to explode”) they would have shared it—or won’t share it just because people ask.

        I just think OP is unlikely to get useful information, even though the natural human instinct is to try to collect as much as possible. So OP can try, but only two ways: a general question and then backing down immediately if nothing is forthcoming, or raising a very specific concern, like “Wallace goes to my yoga studio, is there enough risk that should I speak to my instructor to make sure we don’t cross paths?”

        1. Frozen Ginger*

          I’d say OP *should* get mote information than they have right now. Especially because as it stands right now they don’t have a lot of information on what to do if they see Wallace. Yes, they’re supposed to call security immediately. But how worried should they be? Should they avoid Wallace? Should they pretend everything is normal until security shows up?

          Also, not knowing more details makes OP nervous. If OP’s nervous and worried, they can’t focus on their job. If it’s not much to worry about, employees should be told that so they can relax and their productivity won’t suffer.

          1. fposte*

            Right. The OP may not get all the details she wants, but she should be given the ones she needs.

          2. Government Worker*

            Yes to your last paragraph. I think it’s useful for OP and her colleagues to speak up, if only to let HR and management know that their messaging around this wasn’t handled particularly well. The company may or may not be willing/able to share more details, but they should understand the emotional and productivity impact that *not* providing more information is having on their employees.

            I’d definitely be unnerved by a strong police presence at my workplace. I live in an urban area with plenty of other serious things for the police to be spending their time on, so if they’re taking whatever is going on seriously, that’s enough to make me feel really unsettled and unsafe. Like, wondering if I should work from home to avoid the rampant speculation that would take over among my coworkers and keep us from getting anything done.

          3. hbc*

            So OP would be more focused and less worried if they say, “Call security, and act like everything is normal”? I don’t buy it.

            It’s normal to be worried, and I understand asking. What I don’t understand is the people expecting/demanding details about a personnel matter beyond what directly affects them. “Being worried” doesn’t count in my book, any more than your coworker can go ask HR about your medical leave because they’re worried they might have caught something from you.

            1. Frozen Ginger*

              OP deserves to know as much details as can be given to assure them of the level of threat. If it’s not a dangerous situation, the employees should be told “Hey, be on the look-out for this guy. No need to be alarmed, he’s just no longer allowed to be on the premises.” If it is a dangerous situation, then they definitely deserve to know.

              And from my understanding, they’re not demanding “details” about a matter that doesn’t directly affect them; they’re asking for more basic information. If you’re going to tell people to be on the look-out for someone, you need to tell them why. You don’t have to go into specifics, just something general like “He’s not a threat, he’s just not allowed to be here.” or “There are concerns he might do something like X or Y.”

              1. OP #1*

                @Frozen Ginger: Yes, thank you. I realize most details involving other employees would be kept confidential by HR (like the reason for firing), and just want to know enough to understand the level of threat like you said.

      2. michelenyc*

        As pointed out above their are quite a few companies that refer to their offices as a campus. Nike & Google are examples.

    2. FormerLEO*

      No, we can’t be certain he made a threat. That’s pure conjecture.

      All we know is someone has done something serious enough for police presence.

      Might be a threat
      Might be embezzlement/fraud/etc
      Might be a drug dealer who can rat it a bigger fish
      Might be a material witness who skipped court

      based on the scant facts we have, my gut is that it is less likely a threat and more likely cops with either and order from above to get him or a Jones for this particular dude (assuming that they are there for him and not someone else)

      Coincidences happen. Is this an isolated building
      with 10 people or one with 1000 in the middle of a campus? Was the dude a janitor, the accountant?

      We know far to little to draw ANY real conclusions

      The only advice st can give OP is to ask her bosses if the police are there for dude and if he’s potentially violent. Even OP doesn’t know.

  15. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I have been the ‘standoffish employee’ in OP3’s post. I too was forced to participate in a team-wide personality exercise, and was then invited to a long ‘sharing’ meeting. I attended the meeting, and said nothing for the entire time except ‘no, thank you, there’s nothing that I wish to share’ which I repeated a further three times until they got the idea that, guess what, I had nothing that I wished to share.

    A total waste of my time and my employers’ money engaging in quackery and pseudoscience, particularly as I was a part-time employee in those days and the time to take the test and attend the meeting added up to one-third of my entire working week. The free lunch at the meeting was nice though.

    I now work for a different company but as far as I know OldCompany still repeats the exercise on an annual basis. I think they have money to burn!

    1. Erin*

      If it’s truly optional, I don’t see what the problem is. Understandably some people are just going to opt out.

      1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        The point was the the company used time and money mandating everyone to participate in the testing. The fact that those results were tossed in the bin by some participants before the ink was even dry, and then spent many hours sitting in a mandatory meeting in which participation was optional… So not, not truly optional. I don’t understand why they couldn’t save time and increase productivity by starting the ‘optional’ part before they paid a per-head cost to the consultancy to issue and analyse the tests.

    2. nonegiven*

      ‘no, thank you, there’s nothing that I wish to share’
      Are we doing astrology charts next?

  16. Humble Schoolmarm*

    OP2, is there anyway you can set up some sort of a cueing system, like a gesture or phrase to subtly indicate to the rambler that she’s rambling? I’m an introvert so I tend to limit my rambling to people I’m really close to in my personal life. When I get really carried away (because I’m excited about the topic), my person will say “Anne, your tongue must be hung in the middle” (in reference to a favourite children’s book) and I know I’ve gotten carried away. Clearly, this particular cue isn’t a good one for your situation, but maybe there’s a work-appropriate line that could be useful.

    1. Nic*

      My parents used the term “magpie mouth” when I went on a ramble.

      I think cues could be a good idea. You may start with friends and family, asking them to cue you that you’re rambling. It could be nonverbal, too. A hand gesture, perhaps.

    2. OhNo*

      I wonder if this would be a good use for the yellow card/red card system my professors used in undergrad. Whenever we had discussions, the professors would flash a yellow card if you were talking too long, talking over people, or talking too often, as a signal to stop and let someone else speak. Do it too often, and you got a red card and weren’t allowed to speak again until the topic changed (or the rest of the hour, or the rest of the class, depending on the professor).

      This would only work if the employee was interested in improving their communication style, though. Otherwise it’s a little embarrassing.

      1. Yorick*

        This is a good idea, but a subtler cue might be better so that other people can’t tell what’s going on.

        1. AMPG*

          Obviously a different context, but Toastmasters uses exactly that system for their short speeches. I wonder if that kind of training could be helpful for the rambler. A year and a half of Toastmasters helped me develop a sense for how long two minutes “feels” and how to talk in a narrative that has a beginning, middle, and end.

        2. Kate*

          I’d rather be infantilized in college and trained out of bad speaking habits, than be allowed to carry those into the “real world” and have them derail my career, and have to pay for training or therapy to get rid of them.

          1. OhNo*

            That was pretty much the thought behind it. The whole department really had an emphasis on public speaking and debating skills.

            It’s definitely one of those ideas that should only be used with the enthusiastic consent of all parties – hence my comment about the employee wanting to improve – otherwise it definitely can feel infantilizing and embarrassing.

    3. Sarah*

      The problem here, though, is that the OP is about to leave her current position, and won’t be managing this person anymore. I don’t think it will bode well for this employee if she has to tell the person’s new manager “Well, this person loves to ramble, but you can sort of keep it in check using some weird code word system!” I mean, the whole point here is that the rambler wants to be promoted to more of a leadership position — meaning a position where a manager will not be constantly monitoring her words and she needs to be able to keep it in check herself.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I agree, the fact that OP is moving on is the flaw in my cunning plan. Ideally, though, the employee won’t need this monitoring long term. When someone is calling attention to it consistently, the hope would be that she will be able to figure out the pattern to her rambling and start making some changes.

  17. DG*

    >Since our manager made it clear that no one had to share if they didn’t want to, I want to be respectful of the fact that she obviously wasn’t comfortable sharing, but I would also like to approach her about communication styles to improve our working relationship.

    By all means, talk to her about workplace communication, but definitely don’t bring up the personality test non-sharing issue. If it’s voluntary, it’s voluntary, and “you don’t have to share but your manager will question you about it if you don’t” is effectively the same thing as “you have to share”. If anything, I would wait a few weeks before discussing it, so that she doesn’t feel (accurately?) that it’s a reaction to her not sharing her personality test.

  18. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    LW1. Our workplace went through a similar situation. Fergus was fired, it was necessary and he very much needed to be let go. The workplace policy was to station a security guard on site for 48 hours and to report all sightings to management. Except that management wasn’t around and didn’t leave any emergency contact info. Also, not everyone was told that Fergus was gone, so people were still looking for him and there was no protocol in place for responding to clients who tried to contact him.
    Commenters who suggested a photo have the right idea, not everyone knew who Fergus was by his face.

  19. sssssssssss*

    OP1: The employee in question may have been threatening the company or was engaging in threatening behaviour until he was caught. I agree with others – if you don’t know who he is, how can you report him when you see him?

    Before 9/11, I had a co-worker that was deliberately sabotaging his co-workers computers that held time-sensitive deliverables for weeks. It started with one person’s computer being completely wiped clean one morning and it got to the point where the RCMP was secretly tracking us all at work. The termination announcement was a shock to all and a big shock to those who thought they knew him well. But as far as I know, once he was caught, he did not threaten the company further. No one knew why he did it.

    If that had happened post 9/11? Maybe we might have had security posted around too.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        9/11 heightened workplace awareness of security. Before 9/11 “I forgot my work ID”, after 9/11, “Go home and get it.” All aspects of security began to be taken more seriously.

        1. sssssssssssssssssssssss*

          Exactly. I think it triggered security awareness on everything. Did you do a lockdown drill at school as a kid? Nope, only fire drills. You should see the security here at my current workplace which borders on overkill considering we are not in an easily accessible place.

          The irony is: ppl still don’t really take the ID badge security seriously enough. “I let my kid play with my badge and I need a spare for today.” “It’s on my other pants.” “Can’t I keep the spare and have two?” NO! I don’t miss that part of ex-job.

          1. Mike C.*

            We certainly had lockdown drills, but those were triggered by stuff like Columbine, not 9/11. I was a freshman in college in 2001.

        2. Mike C.*

          But the term “going postal” predates 9/11 by 10 to 15 years depending on how you want to count it. Workplace violence involving former employees has widely been a thing since the early 1980s, and the events of 9/11 are a completely different issue from former employees coming back to shoot up a workplace.

        3. Nervous Accountant*

          I hear about that but its funny (in a strange way)–the securtiy in my current and prev office was pretty relaxed, there’ve been many times I left my ID card on my desk when I went downstairs to teh lobby. my old office didn’t even have key cards, but maybe bc that was a much smaller building than, say, Empire state or rockefeller/FiDi etc.

      2. Sibley*

        I would argue that 9/11, in the US, actually gave everyone some PTSD or something similar. We’re not actually much better at handling the violence (see our reaction to the recent British terrorist attacks as compared to the British people’s reaction in total), but we are extremely security conscious (TSA), in not always effective ways (TSA). We’re very good at scaring ourselves, and very bad at recognizing an actual threat or risk and disregarding the unimportant things. -All comments at very high, aggregated level, should not be applied to individuals.

  20. Roker Moose*

    Re #3 I have OCD and being forced to sit in a room with (new) colleagues discussing my personality is one of the worst things I can imagine. It’s possible her standoffish-ness can be traced to an anxiety disorder of some stripe.

    In any case, you’re better off leaving it alone.

    1. Yorick*

      I don’t think it’s appropriate to speculate that this person has an anxiety disorder.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        While I agree we shouldn’t armchair diagnose, I do find it helpful to think of various problems from the perspective of people with very common ailments. If someone suggests my workplace do A and I know that a good chunk of the population has a medical condition that would make A difficult, I might decide to do B instead.

        1. Observer*

          Firstly, you are way overstating the prevalence of anxiety disorders. But even if you were understating it, it would still be unwise and unhelpful to speculate. A disorder of any sort is totally not necessary to explain this reaction, and the way it should be handled is the same regardless.

          Thus it’s more useful to note that this is a very normal and common reaction and that the best (I’d say only appropriate) way to deal with it is to back off and stop judging people for that.

          1. The Strand*

            The numbers on anxiety disorders are indeed a big chunk, close to 20% of the population.

            I agree that it’s not helpful to speculate about a disorder, but it is thoughtful to consider that some people will be made uncomfortable with certain activities, just as previous columns discussed how forced athletic activity on the job (i.e. “games” requiring a decent level of skill or health) are very difficult for a portion of the workforce.

            We don’t have to say that Terence has an anxiety disorder, we can just consider that Terence gets anxious talking about himself or his personal life, at work (which is also very ordinary).

        2. Yorick*

          It’s different to do that with the idea that SOMEONE in your office may not react well to a policy. I don’t think it’s helpful to do this as an interpretation of a specific person’s behavior, unless that person has shared a diagnosis.

  21. (Different) Rebecca*

    I disagree slightly with the wording of Alison’s response to OP3. I think if you ask “would you be willing to” instead of “how do you feel about” meeting to discuss, etc., then you’ll set a more business-like tone and get the information you want, because speaking from my own perceptions, I might *feel* that meeting to do something that can be done over email is a waste of time, but I would be *willing to* meet to satisfy the other person if it were good business. You don’t need to know if I’m grumbling inside my head about it, just that I’ll do it.

    1. Princess Carolyn*

      I think it depends on what, exactly, OP is hoping to learn. “Would you be willing to…” makes sense if this is something OP wants to do and she’s essentially making a request. “How do you feel about…” is more useful if OP is just trying to get a feel for her colleague’s preferences and style. In that case, you’d want to know if that method causes some internal grumbling.

  22. Jerry Larry Terry Garry*

    I do this with my spouse, so not the same dynamic- but often my questions about a hobby/show/interest result in a long flood of contextual that I don’t care about or already heard. And often my question isn’t actually answered by by the end.
    I interrupt and say “Short version”. It’s rude, and I don’t do it every time, but getting visibly annoyed or not listening is too.
    I would suggest being explicit with your employee, and jumping in whenever she goes off the rails, asking for a shorter explanation, or saying that’s not what you asked, reframing the question for yes or no, saying you’ve got it – you can’t be polite, because she doesn’t realize she’s doing it.

    1. (Different) Rebecca*

      My ex-husband and I were both big Princess Bride fans, so when one of us would start to ramble it was “skip to the end.” *grin*

    2. the gold digger*

      Oh man. My husband wants to explain his reasoning for everything. I tell him that all I want to hear when I ask, “Do you want some dessert?” is “yes” or “no.”

  23. Rebecca*

    #2 – I have this issue with my Mom. She starts in and can talk for endless minutes about something and there’s no point to be seen. Because she’s my Mom, I let her go for a minute or 2 and then I say “Mom, what specifically are we talking about?” or “What do we need to address at the moment”, things like that, and it usually brings her back around to the issue at hand. If she starts to stray again, I just interject with “OK, that was [in the past, not germane to our conversation, etc] so what specific thing do we need to solve?”

    I think you need to be direct with your employee, take them aside privately and coach them as gently as you can. A verbal or visual cue could be worked out if the person really wants to improve. Other than that, I’m not sure what you can do. In my Mom’s case, that’s just how she is, and I don’t see her changing.

    1. Kate*

      Yep, I love my Dad, but he goes on and on when asked a pretty simple question. It makes calling him very frustrating sometimes. Unfortunately I think he would be pretty hurt if I told him, even very gently, what he was doing.

  24. Argh!*

    Re: #2

    She sounds like someone who probably wouldn’t enjoy a higher-level job. People who get into that kind of detail usually do it because they love detail. As a manager she’d be one of those micromanagers who can’t let go.

    I have a coworker who is just a few years away from retirement in an entry-level job who is like this. She loves what she does, and her long, detailed emails are my main problem with her. She wastes a lot of time that way, and I don’t even bother reading them anymore. I doubt she can change, and even if she could, she wouldn’t want a promotion.

    Instead of “this is holding you back” professionally, you could phrase it as “other people’s input is important. Try waiting until they’ve all weighed in before putting in your 2 cents and see what happens.”

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      I was going to say the same – be careful about assuming that she’s even interested in advancing at the company. Because if she’s not, she might conclude that you’re giving her advice on how to get a promotion, and disregard the advice because she doesn’t want the promotion in the first place.

      Better to keep the discussion about how the rambling is problematic in her current role, and how it specifically impacts other people now, rather than “they may not want to promote you in the future.”

  25. Czhorat*

    I agree with everything said on OP3. Specifically:

    1) Most personality tests of this sort aren’t really rigorous tools, but popularized gimmicks. In my experience, any “accurate” results are either a result of being very vague or of confirmation bias.

    2) This is the sort of forced pseudo-teambuilding exercise which many people don’t appreciate. It’s an artificial atmosphere of forced “sharing” as opposed to the creation of a culture which encourages teamwork on a daily basis. Healthy workplaces don’t need “teambuilding” excercises because the work itself is a teambuilding exercise, and people are encouraged to communicate and work together.

    3) Most importantly, if the new internal transfer is new to your group, see what kinds of interaction they respond best to. Ask about their area of expertise when appropriate. Draw them into professional collaboration. If you have a project in which their area might be useful, give them a heads-up and ask when you can meet about it (I’m working on the new teapot design, and might need your input on low-temperature glazing solutions. When would you have time to review this with me?)

    I’ll also make one note on language: someone who doesn’t participate in these kinds of things can be “standoffish”, or “independent” or just “down to business”. The words you choose to describe them will affect how you see and interact with them in the future. Choose less loaded words when you can, and you might find yourself growing better relationships.

    1. NoNameYet*

      I really want to underscore your last point– in the last two organizations I’ve worked for it’s been a requirement to take various personality tests– and both times I believe it’s affected how I’m perceived in that organization.

      The first time I was fresh out of college and went into the testing enthusiastically. The org had a facilitator come in to discuss results with us and part of that meant each of us standing in a corner of the room that corresponded with our “type.” Turns out that most of the 20 employees fell into one type, a handful in a second… and I was the only person in the third (oddly no one fell into the fourth). The facilitator had just finished explaining that my category was a personality type that made for a natural leader– able to see the big picture, etc. All the bosses were in the uh, less “leader-y” category.

      Naturally it was declared the entire process was a mistake by the director, nonetheless my manager suddenly started incessantly picking on my every error, sending me to seminars on how to stay organized, and generally ensuring that I would never surpass her as long as she was there by making me seem incompetent. So I left that job… got hired at a company that told me I was hired, in part, because I was able to demonstrate how I managed multiple projects and stayed organized…

      … At the new job I hilariously tested into a personality type that is apparently NOT full of natural leaders, at least according to the facilitator who proudly pointed out no less than 10 times that she was in the natural leader type. And this time we were required to have our personality type under our names at our office doors (I’ve since taken it down). I’m a de facto manager now, which leadership seems to have a hard time turning into an official title and promotion. And I’ve honestly wondered if it’s not, in part, because of the personality assessment and the big sign that basically said “NOT A LEADER” under my name.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        That’s awful and I thankfully haven’t experienced that.

        What I have experienced is that some people get excused for their faults, e.g., “They can’t help it, they’re in some category that means their weaknesses are being rude” or something like equally problematic.

    2. Mike C.*

      The anti-science sentiment I totally get, but #2 is a point I haven’t been able to articulate as well as you have. It really feels like a cargo cult team building than the real thing.

    3. N*

      I’ll also make one note on language: someone who doesn’t participate in these kinds of things can be “standoffish”, or “independent” or just “down to business”. The words you choose to describe them will affect how you see and interact with them in the future. Choose less loaded words when you can, and you might find yourself growing better relationships.

      Yesssss. There’s a gendered element to this as well–if a man doesn’t want to participate in these kinds of things it’s because he’s “focused” or “businesslike,” but “standoffish” seems to apply primarily to women who aren’t “relational” enough.

      1. nonegiven*

        Maybe instead of standoffish, she is avoiding blurting out, “this is all bulls((t, can I get back to work, now?”

  26. misspiggy*

    It can be that ramblers are sorting out their ideas as they talk. I’ve been guilty of this, but we should do colleagues the courtesy of not making them listen to unedited thought processes.

    Ideally, we should have ‘positions’ worked out for points which might come up. It’s a legitimate use of work time to think through ideas in advance. In meetings, I work out a maximum of three succinct points with a pen and paper, while keeping an ear on the discussion in case I need to modify anything. I find this difficult, but it’s much more effective than reeling off a draft essay to a room of people wishing they could fling themselves out the window.

    If someone asks me a question for which I’m not prepared, I say, ‘It’s a bit complicated. Can I come back to you in fifteen minutes, so that I don’t waste your time while I sort through all the information?’ If pushed I say, ‘I honestly couldn’t say right now – just give me fifteen minutes to come back to you.’

    Whenever I do give a rambling answer, I sit down and think through a headline answer afterwards. That way, I’ll be prepared next time the issue comes up – I can build a mental database of answers to draw on.

    And yes, I did spend more time editing this comment than writing it!

    1. AMPG*

      I ramble for this reason occasionally when talking to someone junior to me who’s looking for guidance/leadership/decision-making, but I’ll signal it ahead of time – “OK, that’s a good question. Let’s talk this through for a minute.” And then I’ll work out my thought process verbally, sometimes asking follow-up questions. I never take more than a couple of minutes to do this, so it’s not as if I’m holding the other person hostage, and then we both end up with a better understanding of why we’re moving in a certain direction.

    2. Kaybee*

      Wow I realized when reading your comment that I also sort out my ideas through talking! Thanks for sharing your strategies for handling it. I’m definitely going to try them.

  27. AwkwardKaterpillar*

    OP #1 – you are not being over-worried. Law enforcement is not going to waste resources on a routine firing if there is not a credible threat. People get fired all the time, it is definitely not the norm to place guards at the workplace. I would be worried if I were you, at least that you are not getting all of the information you need to make decisions on your own safety.

    Definitely get a picture, and as much information as you can on what the perceived threat is.

  28. ALR*

    OP1: You might want to take a look at the training our office requires each year. There is a DHS video and related training material on workplace violence (Active Shooter Training). Having a certain level of preparedness can help with some of the anxiety. Having a plan is essential. The video isn’t graphic, but it may disturb more sensitive folks. https://www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness

    1. OP #1*

      That looks like an excellent resource. Thank you! We don’t get emergency training at my job at all (the most we’ve done is a fire drill).

  29. Fictional Butt*

    For the rambler question: is there a specific type of information she is sharing that is unnecessary? For instance, I tend to always want to share my immediate thoughts/feelings/assumptions/conclusions about a situation, even when it is the very early stages and I don’t really have enough information for those assumptions and conclusions to actually be meaningful. Once I realized that I was oversharing that information, it was much easier to stop, because I knew exactly what I should not be sharing anymore.

    My strategy is that when I have to talk about something I have a lot of thoughts about–like alerting my boss about a problem I’ve discovered–I write out everything I’m going to say, and then I delete everything that is not a cold, hard fact. Then I re-read it and see whether I think all the necessary information is there. Usually, it is. You might recommend this strategy to your employee–physically deleting unnecessary information is a lot easier than stopping yourself from talking, I think.

  30. Jenn*

    Chiming in for OP #3: I once had a boss who turned to me before the questionnaire and said “you’d better test out as gold!” (or whatever it was) because that was the detail-oriented one and my job had lots of details. SURPRISE, I did test into that category because I threw the test. In fact I think I’m in the group that will go skydiving instead of working but you know, #careergoals :)

    Anyways I think personality tests are a bad idea and applaud your coworker for her insight in just not sharing.

  31. Observer*

    OP #2, has it occurred to you that she is not at all stand-offish or difficult to work with, and that her “reputation” is a failure of the test and the processes around it? I don’t know if that’s the case, but it’s a very real possibility.

    Skip the touchy-feely stuff. If you want to find out about her communications style, ASK her specifically and follow her cues as well. Things like “Do you prefer email, phone or face to face?” Look at how much background she tends to give when you ask her questions. etc. You can learn a LOT about people’s communications styles if you just pay attention and genuinely accept that there really are different and equally valid communications styles. And that includes not getting bent out of shape when someone doesn’t want to take part in a team building exercise that she has issues with, and not passing judgement.

    1. OP #3*

      To be clear, her reputation is not a result of her reaction to testing, but others comments when she was moved to my team.

      I’ll be honest, your comment rubbed me the wrong way because the issue isn’t about “touch-feely” stuff. It’s about exactly what you said, how do you want people to communicate with you? I can definitely respect that other people are different and have different styles, which is why I was asking about the best way to approach someone who had already expressed they didn’t want to contribute on this topic.

      I feel like this question touched a nerve for some people who really don’t like personality testing. Which is eye-opening in itself because maybe this is the extreme that my coworker feels about the situation. Thank you for your feedback!

      1. Liet-Kynes*

        I’m really curious as to why your organization is dependent on personality testing to answer that. It’s just not necessary to delve that deep into someone’s personality to figure out how best to communicate with them.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, it’s one of those things where the answers can be the answers, you know? It can be eyeopening to discover that some people really love face to face conversations and some people hate them and prefer email; that doesn’t have to be tied to personality types.

          1. AMPG*

            I suspect that’s the point, though – it seems that there wasn’t anything stopping her from showing up to the meeting and saying, “I didn’t find the test itself that useful, but here are the important things to know about how I communicate best.” The fact that she wouldn’t even say that is something that would concern me, too.

              1. AMPG*

                Someone else in the meeting did exactly, that, though, which suggests that the goals were clearly communicated.

                1. Liet-Kynes*

                  OP stated pretty unequivocally that the goal of the daylong retreat was to review the results of the test and discuss. It’s nice if someone was moved to meet the spirit of the event while not participating in the test, but if you’re not inclined to share, you’re not inclined to share. My whole point is that expecting her to share – or, in my view, overshare – about her personality is fundamentally off base.

            1. LQ*

              The thing about these tests is when you take them and then raise objections people always go “Oh that’s so Blue of you!” (or whatever the particular tests equivalent is) so people user the test against you when you say anything about it. Every time my office talks about doing this the same thing happens. (Luckily there are a couple people much higher up than I am who also think that way and will stop it before it gets pushed on everyone.) But if you just want to have a conversation about communication? Have that. Have it from an evidence based curriculum ideally. But as someone who has brought up objections if I was new to a team I would just keep my mouth shut because of this effect.

      2. Unit 1*

        A round-table discussion of a personality tests is “touchy-feely.” A meeting to determine the best way to communicate as a team isn’t touchy-feel, but in most work environments wouldn’t be based off a personality test. You may have enjoyed this type of meeting as a way to get to know your team mates better, but it sounds like an incredibly inefficient way to discuss communication needs.

        Are you concerned about her reputation, and do you consider her unwillingness to participate as a “sign” of future difficulty working with her?

  32. OP #3*

    Thank you so much, Alison, for answering my question, and to everyone who has responded so far! I really appreciate the advice and after putting more thought into it myself I’ve decided I’m going to just let it go. I did want to clarify a few things though:

    1. I am NOT her manager. We worked together briefly on a project about a year ago and I know many other people who have worked closely with her and struggled. Our current working relationship involves a kind of pipeline where when my work is completed it goes to her for next steps and I remain the main contact for the client (so if she misses something, I’m the one taking the heat). My own previous experience with her wasn’t great as she didn’t keep me in the loop at all and some aspects of the project were completed incorrectly as a result. I’m trying to put this out of my mind and treat her as a new coworker.

    2. The test is taken by everyone in the company at different times depending on when you were hired (I did mine 2 years ago) and required a large amount of sharing at the time the test was completed (you do a 2-day off-site in groups of 20-ish people where you discuss the results of the test, different personality types etc.). I guess this is why it felt like her not contributing anything was kind of odd. Many people enter the initial testing with the “ugh testing sucks” attitude and leave having learned a lot and really embracing it, which is why we’ve continued to use it after the HR-mandated training.

    3. Another coworker chose to share very little. Rather than reading his book he simply answered the questions in the category (such as: “how to communicate best with me?” Answer: “I don’t like to be interrupted when I have headphones on, please send me a chat message first”). Non-sharing coworker felt odd because she didn’t contribute anything about herself, but still made comments about what other people read about themselves.

    4. I really appreciate the feedback pointing out that she may be shy/just hate the testing. As a company, everyone I’ve encountered has been really receptive to this process (this isn’t the first team I’ve done it on) and it felt odd to have her not contribute anything on herself, but to still comment on other peoples responses (saying things like “oh yeah, that one is totally you”). I didn’t think it was relevant at the time, but I’m now thinking the fact that she has the lowest formal education level on our team may be a contributing factor or may make her feel insecure. (I didn’t think about this initially, as she is an expert in an extremely difficult section of our business, and formal education isn’t something our company emphasizes in it’s hiring or promotion process)

    Thanks everyone for the feedback! I’m still new-ish in my career and beginning the process of being groomed for a management role, so this was an eye-opener for me! I hope it came across that I’m really just concerned about starting off on the right foot with this coworker because so far she mostly keeps to herself and our roles are going to require us to be pretty closely linked and in-sync for our clients. I’m going to leave things for now and address any communication issues as they come up.

    1. Mike C.*

      Look, you keep saying that “everyone has been receptive to the testing before” but that doesn’t really prove anything. This sort of testing is not supported by the data and it’s going to lead you and your company astray if you continue to put so much stock into it. Spend your time instead building an actual relationship rather than relying on pseudo-science as a shortcut.

      1. Liet-Kynes*

        My wife is an organizational psychologist. If you ever want to see a passionate 5-minute rant peppered with arm-waving and bracing vulgarities in both Hebrew and English, come over to my house and announce that you’re a fan of Meyers-Briggs! Bring popcorn.

        1. fposte*

          I think it kind of is, actually–that the org is putting too much weight in following the template of this exercise and turning it into an end rather than a means. They *did* get information about this coworker, including the fact that this kind of test isn’t his thing. That seems to me to be as significant a piece of information as anything within the actual test.

      2. Bostonian*

        Wow, is it really that hard for everybody to take the OP at his/her word? Just because none of you like/agree with certain tests doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who find value in them.

        1. Mustache Cat*

          There is a sea of difference between taking the OP at their word and assuming the OP is omniscient.

    2. Amtelope*

      I think it is extremely unlikely that everyone at your company thinks this kind of personality testing/discussion is great — I mean, it’s possible, but lots of people hate this stuff, and it seems unlikely that none of them have ever worked for your company. I think it’s more likely that everyone before this has conformed to the expectation that they’ll say “oh, yeah, this testing is great” and participate in discussing it, even though that’s theoretically “optional.”

      If this really is optional, you might need to work harder to make it clear that people don’t have to attend and don’t have to say anything — if this is the only person who’s ever opted out, and you’re clearly surprised that she did, I suspect many people are feeling a lot of social pressure to participate. It sounds like this coworker felt that attending and participating in some way was required, but didn’t want to share her results (and had been told that doing so was optional), and so participated by responding to others. If you’d rather that she had skipped the whole thing, maybe tell people next time “if you come, be prepared to discuss your test results — if you’d rather not, then you don’t need to attend.”

    3. Liet-Kynes*

      “Many people enter the initial testing with the “ugh testing sucks” attitude and leave having learned a lot and really embracing it, which is why we’ve continued to use it after the HR-mandated training. ”

      That’s great, and I’m glad some people find it useful or informative, but consider the fact that people who value privacy might regard it as an intrusion on same, and an expectation of intimacy, disclosure, and sharing that makes them very, very uncomfortable. Do keep in mind that for a lot of people, even those who bite their tongue and play along, coworkers are people they associate with largely because they’re paid to, and they may not wish to lay bare their personality quirks in that setting.

      If you’re feeling concerned about getting on the right foot with her, I strongly suggest respecting her obvious desire to keep to herself, and not run roughshod over her very clear boundaries. Nothing will make her more resentful than you constantly pressuring her for openness. You can be in sync and linked professionally, while still giving her the space she needs. If your ambitions include management, consider this a first and very important lesson – you’ve got to adapt to your reports’ needs just as much as they’ve got to accommodate yours.

      Also, as Mike C says, these tests are regarded as pseudoscience by actual organizational psychologists. They’re really not that rigorous and they return mixed and often contradictory results. People’s test results can change by day and mood, and if you’ve taken them before it’s trivial to answer to conform to past results. Don’t overrely on them as a management tool. Building real, authentic, respectful relationships doesn’t need gimmicks.

      1. Liet-Kynes*

        “My own previous experience with her wasn’t great as she didn’t keep me in the loop at all and some aspects of the project were completed incorrectly as a result. I’m trying to put this out of my mind and treat her as a new coworker.”

        Also, this seems to be your real issue with her. You do not – do not, do not, do not – need to know her personality type to address this. This is a performance issue, not a personality issue, and you can make your needs and requirements known to her, and if necessary her boss, without massive soul-bearing disclosure.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yeah, this is the bottom line. Not “she doesn’t keep me in the loop because she has personality trait X or Y or Z.” The only important part is “she doesn’t keep me in the loop, and bad things happen as a result.”

        2. AD*

          Agreed with everything you said.

          I think OP#3 is focused on the wrong things, and I’m concerned that she’s bringing up the education level of the employee in question. I’m not seeing how this person’s degree earned and aversion to personality tests are being made the crux of the issue – rather, poor communication is what should be focused on (and not by *you* – by the employee’s manager).

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I can come up with an education one if I squint–I think many of us were first introduced to these things because we took a psych course in college, or one of our friends did and had to test a bunch of us as homework. (In my case it was my roommate, who eventually got a math degree with a minor in social psych; the tests showed that no one was J and thus explained our inability to choose a dining hall for dinner.)

            That said, OP–I would drop that part from your analysis. She doesn’t need to feel more comfortable with the idea of the test. She needs to keep you in the loop on projects.

            1. AD*

              This is all moot as OP is not the employee’s manager, speculating on employee’s background in education is irrelevant, and the issue is perceived (or actual) lack of communication from this person – which OP can address when it affects work performance by actually reaching out to the employee or to their manager.

              All this conversation about personality tests and how people feel about them (in addition to OP’s comment re: education) is window dressing.

    4. Jenn*

      Just highlighting that I looked receptive to the testing, participated in All The Things, but completely lied. (I was successful at that organization and was promoted several times before I moved on.)

      In reading your follow up, I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing here. You need to be kept in the loop, certainly. I would definitely approach it at that end and not spend time on analysing whether she’s feeling insecure because of her education, etc. I get it, I think that way too. But ultimately you just want to know where she is in TPS reports and make sure that she’s creating them to spec or whatever — and that seems like a productive conversation to have.

      1. NJNPED*

        This is also my strategy at my job, where the higher ups really embrace sharing and feeling and new personality tests on the regular. I lie my face off. I really value privacy and getting to choose what I share with whom and when – I have certainly shared things with co-workers, but at times that I was comfortable doing so. Not participating is frowned upon, although I have done so when there was no option (when I couldn’t make up a fact or feeling fast enough) and I have been met with a range of reactions, from dismay to shock, from people who were surprised that I didn’t want to share what I consider really personal information.

    5. Czhorat*

      Asking being open to outside opinions is an excecllent start. I suspect many of us are reacting to the testing because it’s a bit unusal and was a focal point of your letter.

      There’s no easy one-way answer; through our career you’ll likely find each of these to be unique; there’s no one-size-fits all answer on how to get someone to open up. The best you can do is take it case-by-case, see what draws each person out, and act accordingly.

      IN any event, good luck.

    6. the gold digger*

      you do a 2-day off-site in groups of 20-ish people where you discuss the results of the test, different personality types etc.

      Sorry, but this sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. I wouldn’t even want to do it now, 2.5 years into my job, with people I really, really like.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        How about doing it with a few people you like and one person you find impossible to work with, and then finding out that the entire point of the exercise was so you can all understand what that one person wants, so you can adjust your own behavior in order to make them happy?

    7. gwal*

      I feel like everyone is piling on here because they don’t like surveys themselves…what to do about this section though? It sounds like perhaps the non-participant was actually being more boxed-off than necessary even in the case of a person who doesn’t like the survey:

      3. Another coworker chose to share very little. Rather than reading his book he simply answered the questions in the category (such as: “how to communicate best with me?” Answer: “I don’t like to be interrupted when I have headphones on, please send me a chat message first”). Non-sharing coworker felt odd because she didn’t contribute anything about herself, but still made comments about what other people read about themselves.

      1. Liet-Kynes*

        I don’t disagree that the other coworker responded more productively, but I’m not sure I fault the coworker in question for being more boxed-off than the other one. That was, for better or worse, her comfort level; I don’t think she was more boxed-off than “necessary,” because that attaches a value judgment to a level of disclosure that’s going to feel more or less comfortable depending on each person involved.

      2. fposte*

        I confess I don’t actually understand who’s who in the third sentence there and therefore what’s going on with the sharing, but I think it sounds like this person answered the questions with information, even if it wasn’t in the template the organization was hoping. That’s not a reason to disregard his information. And I don’t think you can simultaneously complain that somebody didn’t participate enough but that they contributed to the discussion about other people.

        1. AMPG*

          The co-worker who didn’t contribute at all is the subject of the third sentence. OP#3 is contrasting her complete refusal to volunteer any information about herself with the other co-worker who didn’t talk about the test results but DID talk about his communication and working styles. And I think that’s a valid concern. I understand not liking personality tests, but the underlying goal of this roundtable meeting was to get information about how to work best with new teammates. It’s clear that the test results were just a way into the discussion and weren’t actually required. But OP’s co-worker refused to contribute to the larger goal, as well.

        2. IvyGirl*

          I think it’s that she was fine talking about other people, but not herself. That’s perplexing; the other employee actually gave feedback without participating in the test itself – still helpful. Being critical for criticism’s sake isn’t.

          1. Kate*

            It doesn’t sound like they were critical though, it sounds like they were just agreeing with what everyone said. It might be that Coworker wasn’t comfortable sharing anything about themselves, but wanted to show “willingness”, and so tried to participate at the level they were comfortable with, showing up for the session, making comments and discussing the results of others. If she hadn’t said anything, would we be judging her for showing up and “sitting like a rock”? Ignoring the group? Etc.

    8. Jessesgirl72*

      These kind of tests aren’t really supposed to be the entire solution to interpersonal office relationships- they can help you be understanding and the most important aspect, in my mind, is that it raises the awareness that we’re not all the same, and you should try different approaches to people. But the fact remains that you should try different approaches anyway, and you can’t just use this shortcut to get around having to actually build relationships. It’s not going to prevent mistakes, as much as HR departments would like to think it will. And I say this as someone who thinks they are useful!

      And the truth is that I don’t have to actually see someone’s results- I can usually accurately guess the personality type of people I’ve worked with.

      If you have problems working with her, then focus on that. (And really, it doesn’t make any sense to ignore the problems you had with her before. That is knowledge- use it to try to head off future issues! Give her opportunity to behave differently, but don’t go into it expecting different results!) You’re not her manager, so when she’s not getting you the information you need, don’t wait until there is a problem, but go to her manager and ask for help. Or talk to her directly “As you know, when we worked together on the teapot spouts project, there were often communications gaps that led to X, Y, and Z. How can we improve our interaction and communication to prevent that from happening on this project? ”

      Focus on the work, not whether or not she plays the games.

      1. N*

        Yes. To be honest–having people publicly share their strengths and weaknesses in front of a group is definitely not something that everyone is comfortable with. I had a boss who was really big on this kind of thing (“Everyone go around the table and share what they feel the most vulnerable about in their work…” “Let’s all identify our strengths and leverage them to write our own personal brands”) and it just felt gross. +1 for focusing on the work and not worrying about the team building strengths finder stuff.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        There’s some irony in the idea that the one communication style the test can’t prepare anyone to deal with is the employee who doesn’t want to talk about her test results.

        OP, I think these tests can sometimes be valuable–I gave an example upthread of one helping me figure out how to explain schoolwork to my son in a way that worked much better for him–and even I am very dubious that delight in the insights from the tests is as universal as you seem to perceive. I suspect you have a mix of people who value the tests and people like Jenn above, who participated in All The Things while lying because she knew what the higher ups wanted to hear about their tests. If you said there was universal buy-in on the value of Free Pretzel Tuesday, that I would believe.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Pretzels are full of gluten. And carbs.

          I can’t think of anything that would have 100% buy in. Even companies that give out raises get complaints.

    9. Mustache Cat*

      I didn’t think it was relevant at the time, but I’m now thinking the fact that she has the lowest formal education level on our team may be a contributing factor or may make her feel insecure.

      I don’t mean this in an unkind way, but it seems like you’re still looking at the pseudo-psychoanalytic reasons behind her behavior, aka the “touchy-feely” stuff, rather than how you can address the behavior itself. You’re still looking for answers that are rooted somehow in her character; if not her type based on a personality test, then her educational background/hypothetical insecurity problems. Knowing, or thinking you know, or speculating on these things aren’t a substitute to building a personal relationship.

      1. Super Anon for This*

        Yep, and speaking as someone with a lower formal education level than anyone else I work with, but more informal education (self-educated), the very fact that you are bringing it up makes me leery about your attitude, in that you may subconsciously think less of her because of her education level.

      2. Nerdling*

        Word. I’ve found that, at least in my line of work, formal education isn’t even close to the be all, end all of what influences an employee’s ability to do the job. There’s just too much that natural inclination, on the job training, being willing to learn, and previous experience bring to the table. It’s dangerous to fall into the trap that someone who is less educated isn’t as intelligent or competent.

        Just talk with her directly.

    10. Tuxedo Cat*

      Is there a reason you can’t ask her how to prevent these previous issues from happening, or could you ask your manager how to work best with her? Not be accusative but figure out how to be kept in the loop. Whenever I start a new project with someone, we always have a conversation on how to communicate, whether we’re using Google Docs or Dropbox, and so on. Because I work with different people at different places, I wouldn’t have access to a personality test even if they were valid. After these conversations, these relationships tend to work well.

    11. e271828*

      After I climbed off the ceiling, I would be looking for a new job if told that my future held a two-day off-site meeting devoted to “sharing” the results of a personality test with coworkers.

      Two days or two hours—these tests are fun party games, and they are not a substitute for good management practices. The “stand-off-ish” worker may feel that workplaces are for working, not dissecting one’s own and one’s coworkers’ personalities in group sessions. The whole effect sounds creepy and intrusive: substitute “horoscope” for “personality test” and you’d be getting about the same quality of information.

    12. N*

      Thank you for the followup, OP! I personally am not a fan of this kind of testing, but I appreciate that you’ve taken some of the criticism in good grace. You sound like a good coworker if you’re taking the time to consider how to work with this person!

      I’m sticking by my initial feeling that she may be shy and insecure if it’s true that she has a somewhat low level of education compared to the other members of the team. It’s possible that she’s very guarded because she doesn’t want to be “outed” as less educated, so opening a line of communication by wanting to know more about her expertise (and more like, “I want to know more about what you do and how we can support each other” rather than, “I want to know about your work so I can do it myself”) is something she might be receptive to. Good luck!

  33. Clever Name*

    #3: I’ve been able to work successfully with people who others think are standoffish (or brusque, or cold, etc). My strategy is to meet them where they’re at. Some people are just really private and prefer to not share any details of their personal lives at work, and that’s cool. Others are the type who are very literal and always say exactly what they mean, and take everything you say to them at face value. Some are just no-nonsense, get-the-job-done types. For pretty much all of these types, I am very straightforward and down to business. You don’t need the normal “getting to know you” chitchat. You can get right down to business. I think it’s Frankly, I love working with the “hard to work with” types, because often, they are amazing at what they do.

  34. NPOQueen*

    OP2, the best advice I ever received was from my first supervisor, who told me to shut the hell up in meetings. In college, we were encouraged to speak up and share our opinions, and jump on the backs of other people’s comments, but that’s not how it was in business. “Shut up and listen” she said. At the time, I was really hurt and then worried that I’d made a fool of myself, but as time went on, I began to see how valuable this advice was. There is so much more happening in meetings than the actual talking; politics, decision-making, information-gathering, and even evaluating someone for a potential promotion. I never would have noticed this if she hadn’t given me that advice. Now, nearly 12 years later, it’s the first thing I do at a new company, and it has helped me grow tremendously since I first started out.

    1. KR*

      I’ve found too that I don’t pay close attention to what people say when they talk too much in meetings.

    2. Czhorat*

      That’s very funny; the late founder of my last employer gave the exact opposite advice: if you’re in a meeting, always speak up so other attendees will remember that you were there and participated.

  35. Liet-Kynes*

    OP2 – after you have the Very Serious Discussion with your report about the windiness, I’d honestly advocate for a little tactical rudeness. When someone is rattling on for minutes on end and steamrolling others, an interruption is just returning the awkwardness to sender. “Jane! Time to wrap it up.” “Jane, we’re all shooting for short contributions here, so if you can wrap it up in a few sentences, it’s time for Wakeen.” “Jane, I need the 15-second version.”

  36. NewBoss5000*

    For OP #2 (and the collective wisdom):

    Several of my employees do the rambling thing, not only verbally but via email as well. They not only do this when I ask them a question, they also do it whenever they ask anything of me (for example, asking for time off to go to the doctor, etc.). A simple “I have a doctor’s appointment at 3 tomorrow, can I leave early to go?” turns into a long-winded justification of why they need to go, why they need to go at THAT time, what’s wrong with them (often veering into extreme TMI that I don’t need to hear), etc. The same thing happens whenever they feel they need to justify anything (such as being five minutes late). I took over supervising them just this January (though I’ve been working with them for several years). Their previous supervisor, who is still head of our department and my boss, is not some kind of tyrant who would have scared them all into behaving this way (quite the opposite, in fact). I don’t know how to get them to just get to the point, especially since it’s pretty much everyone. I want to say “I don’t care why you’re going to the doctor/five minutes late/need to take a break/want to take a vacation day/etc. I’m saying yes/no already here, stop talking.” But I have no idea how to do so in a way that won’t cause further issues.

    1. Massmatt*

      Hard to say–how have you been handling so far? Have you ever said anything to the offender at the time, or have you just stood there smiling and nodding and inwardly gritting your teeth and wishing they’d shut up?

      Some people are very good at reading nonverbal cues/have good social skills and others are not. If they are not picking up on your subtle hints then use your words. Don’t be nasty, but be clear. So many problems metastasize because we avoid difficult conversations or are afraid of seeming rude.

      1. NewBoss5000*

        I’ve been trying to be more explicit. There are some language barriers as well, which makes it difficult to find the line between “to the point” and “rude.”

    2. Liet-Kynes*

      Honestly? I think you can say those things. “Jane! Jane. You’re an adult. I trust you. You don’t need to make a federal case here.” “Jane, whoa, TMI, I don’t need to know the details. Just take the time you need, I trust you when you say you need it.”

        1. NewBoss5000*

          I’ve done the interrupting a few times. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve also done the “I trust you” thing. I need to be more firm, I think.

    3. New Bee*

      Since you started supervising them relatively recently, could you share a manager memo with new norms? Say something like, “Now that we’ve gotten into a rhythm I’ve realized there are some aspects of my style/expectations I haven’t been explicit about, like [example of how you want them to send those emails].”

      1. NewBoss5000*

        That’s a good idea. My main concern is that in general, I’m having trouble a) getting everyone to actually read the emails and b) getting them to follow the instructions in the emails. For example, earlier today I emailed two people with a link to information about a new system I need them to learn about (we work in higher ed and the system is for hiring student workers). One responded with a long paragraph about how she has hired student workers so far, that three graduated and so we’re left with five or six from before who aren’t currently working but she plans to hire them back in the fall, that maybe there will be money for some more workers but she usually didn’t use the old system to hire students, etc. etc.

        I did respond with “Thank you for that information. I still need you to learn the new system.” But I wanted to say “I don’t care about any of that. Just learn the system.”

        This is basically how any verbal or email conversation goes with this particular person. Others are like this to a lesser degree.

    4. Beancounter Eric*

      Giving you extreme detail may be a learned response to previous managers complaints about their taking time off during business hours.

      I’ve worked for managers who wanted to know exactly why you needed time off and why it could not be during off-hours.

      1. NewBoss5000*

        Perhaps. Though the head of our department (and their former immediate supervisor) has never been that type. But maybe places they worked before were like that.

  37. Massmatt*

    Re: OP 2 who rambles–The bigger problem is that she is not listening to the feedback she is getting, or making changes. Perhaps the feedback was too polite but the assumption by the OP seems to be that she should be promoted to managing people. From everything in the letter this would likely be a disaster. If she ignores social cues from and talks over people senior to her (!) what is she going to be like as a manager with a captive audience?

  38. N*

    OP3 I would bet almost anything that your internal transfer is very shy. I’ve been told that I come across as “standoffish” but am really just a little uncomfortable meeting new people. I can imagine that if I was in a team building exercise like the one you mentioned, I wouldn’t want to do a lot of personal sharing in front of a group of total strangers (let alone coworkers) either.

    I might suggest letting it go and taking some time to get to know her one on one–like scheduling to get lunch or coffee, and letting her know that you specifically want to learn more about her niche expertise. I imagine that giving her the chance to talk about something other than herself in a relaxed, 1:1 environment would be welcome.

  39. OhBehave*

    LW1 – My husband hired an off-duty police officer to sit in his lobby for a week after firing an employee. This employee had become unhinged after the firing. Hubs was prepared for this reaction. Employee was warned not to step foot on the property. He never saw him again and he caused no trouble. Those who were regularly in the office knew what this guy was capable of so there were no secrets.

    I believe you absolutely have the right to know if you’re in danger.

  40. Katie Fay*

    #2: Your employee told you this is a defense mechanism but she may not realize that it can come across as condescending to some. I once interacted closely with someone who did this and her communications were ‘you can’t possibly understand this concept so I must over-explain it to you’ in nature. Attempts to interact (and interrupt) were greeted with shock that you were intervening with knowledge of her topic and continuance of the ramble.
    It may be helpful to encourage her to think about how others may perceive her, switching her thinking away from herself and instead to how others are feeling when interacting with her.
    Good luck and it is nice of you to remain concerned about her future development when moving on yourself.

    1. Yorick*

      Yes, some of my coworkers do this and it comes across as condescending.

      They also over-explain some things that are extremely simple or re-explain the entire background of the project, but then provide almost none of the real information that I actually need. I sometimes wonder if they deliberately do this to trick me into thinking that they’re discussing things with me before implementing them.

  41. Mongoose*

    For OP #5, I used to be on the other end of this equation–putting together the marketing materials for trips run by my university. They usually contained brief descriptions of lectures and the sites being visited, as well as a short reading list (5-10 titles, depending on the type of attendee and the length of the trip). The description of the lectures and reading list was provided by the guest lecturer, and the descriptions of the sites we drafted and had the lecturer review for accuracy. The deadlines likely reflect when they’ll need content in order to create these materials (print materials have longer lead times than online materials).
    It sounds like the company you’re working with is doing a poor job communicating their expectations of you, so I think Alison’s suggestion works fine, especially if it is not part of your contract. You may also want to request samples of their materials from earlier trips so that you can get a better sense of what they need. You’ll probably find that the description you provide for your lectures are edited to make them less academic, so as others have suggested, don’t dedicate the same amount of time to this as you would writing up a description for your lecture in an academic setting (course book, conference, etc.).

    1. OP5*

      Thank you, Mongoose, and all the other commentators who responded to my question – and thank you, Alison, for posting my question and for your response. I found all the responses really helpful and they’ve given me lots of ideas for how to take this forward in a way that will benefit all parties!

  42. Kimberly*

    LW #1 I think that the company should give you more information. I’ve been through something similar a few times.

    One time a man showed up at a Middle School in my district wanting to volunteer and mentioning a few specific students. The staff got a weird feel off him, and check the kids’ records and called the parents. He was a pedophile convicted of offenses against these kids. The parents had not be warned of his release. The cops were called but he left. He went to the next school down the way and tried to volunteer there. An all staff alert was put out with his photograph. 4 different police departments were involved (2 small towns, county sheriff, and DPS). Schools were told by the police to let him fill out paperwork to give them time to get to the schools. They eventually caught him walking into another school. Media reported – District Lets Known Pedophile Volunteer. Criticism of that situation meant that all the Agencies got together and came up with a more detailed plan.

    Since then there have been multiple domestic violence situations that spilled on campus with threats against either staff and/or students. We call it partial lock down.
    1. All staff is notified of the situation, including nature of threats (with screenshots of those if on social media) We were also sent pictures of the person making threats. I think older students were shown the pictures – but I taught 2nd and we didn’t do that. The one exception was when it was my student who was being threatened. He told his classmates that it was is Dad and that if they saw him call the cops. One reason the older kids were told was they were in portable buildings and had to walk inside to get to the bathrooms.
    2. An officer is stationed in the front office. All other doors are fire door locked (you can get out but not in) all the time anyways. The staff is not allowed to exit out these doors during a partial lock down. The sensors are turned on and the office gets an alert if the doors are opened. At least one time the PD as the fire department to let us delay a fire drill because they were worried the guy would show up.
    3. More officers were on campus during the morning and during dismissal
    4. Individual classroom doors and doors to groups of classrooms were kept locked.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      :( That’s horrific that the pedophile’s first inclination was to retraumatize the kids he already harmed.

  43. Princess Carolyn*

    I have ADHD, and rambling — really, processing out loud — is a common issue for me. So is interrupting. I have no idea if OP’s co-worker has ADHD or any other diagnosable problem, but I suspect the co-worker could benefit from some cues in the moment. She’s likely aware that, in general, she rambles. A quick comment while she’s rambling like “Can we get the quick version of this?” or a more pointed question (“What time does the even start?” vs. “What do we know about the event?”) can go a long way.

    OP, if you’re willing, you could also set up a system to give her some subtle, nonverbal cues to let her know when she’s steamrolling people. Changing your conversation habits requires a lot of vigilance, at least in my experience. Having someone help me recognize my behaviors in the moment makes it a lot easier to change them.

  44. a Gen X manager*

    #3 I keep having a nagging feeling about the standoffish co-worker. In my experience, folks that are labeled as standoffish or difficult to work with are often – but not always obviously – diamonds in the rough, so to speak.

    The are just too many reason(s) that the co-worker is being standoffish, but I suggest that OP forget the whole personality test topic with this co-worker (don’t even think about it / try to figure it out).

    In my experience, I’ve had the best results with this kind of co-worker when I’ve been direct and on-topic in my communications. These folks tend to warm up over time (albeit very slowly) and are often under-the-radar MVPs / key resources.

    1. LQ*

      I totally agree about the approach. Be direct. Talk about work. If you have questions about the work ask them. Try focusing on the work you are expecting this person to do rather than if they did the test. (Unless the test is actually their job, then you can explain why it is important to have experienced the administration from the learner point of view, but I doubt that’s the actual job here.) It sounds like you want to develop a good relationship. Try focusing that around the actual work rather than the test. What is the niche. Learn about it. Ask about it. Bring them into important conversations. Talk about the direction of that niche.

  45. Beancounter Eric*

    In re. #2 – be very careful, lest you develop your employee into someone very monosyllabic. Or mute. Tread very carefully, and recognize this person may be a better fit outside a leadership role.

  46. Vanilla Nice*

    LW #4:

    In my industry, it’s common to know co-workers’ spouses, although I’ve never encountered the specific situation that you describe. I wouldn’t anticipate any problems, but I do think it would be a good idea to have a conversation with the hiring manager along the lines of: “As you’re probably already aware, Jonathan Doe is my husband. I’m excited about this opportunity, and Jonathan has moved on with his career. If there’s anything I need to do to avoid awkward situations related to that, please let me know.” The reaction to that should give you a pretty good clue about whether your husband’s former role is going to be an issue for people (I’m guessing not, or they wouldn’t have made the offer).

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