my new employee spends too much time justifying everything

A reader writes:

We are a very small facility in the northeast U.S. with under 10 employees who are all from the town we work in. I recently hired a new employee who is originally from the midwest. For the most part her work is acceptable, but she has some personality traits that are affecting the work environment and other staff. It’s somewhat hard to identify the exact problem but I think I think it can be summed up in two ways: she doesn’t know how to end a conversation and she feels the need to justify her actions in every situation.

As an example, she might come into my office to ask if she can be 10 minutes late next Monday due to a doctor’s appointment. I might say “Sure, we have enough coverage, no problem.” At this point I would expect her to say “Great, thanks!” and leave, but instead she lingers and then proceeds to explain that she’s tried really hard not to have appointments conflict with work. She continues to go on about how she doesn’t think it will be much more than 10 minutes and that she’ll try in the future to schedule them on her day off. No matter how hard I try to reassure her that she’s all set or that everything is fine, she continues on, repeating the same thing in different ways. It gets to the point where the conversation becomes awkward.

As another example, she might ask if she can post something to our website. I say “Sure, that’s a great idea, go ahead and post that.” She usually responds with something like “Okay, I just wanted to make sure because … etc.” I say “Yep, no problem.” She responds with more justifications or comments about why she suggested posting this item and why it would be a good idea, even though I’ve already told her I agree it’s a good idea. Again, the conversation becomes awkward.

And this type of thing happens in almost every interaction with her, even minor ones. The other staff and I are feeling very uncomfortable and awkward around her because of this. I know it must be difficult to start a new job in a new state when your other coworkers all know each other, but I feel like we’ve tried hard to welcome her and make her feel like she fits in.

I have already spoken to her, saying I don’t want her to feel she needs to justify everything, that we understand it will take her time to adjust to this new position (she’s about three months into it now), but several hours after speaking to her, this behavior continued. Any advice on how to correct this or help the staff deal with it? Do you think we’re being too picky or “clique-ish”? Do you think her behavior can be changed, or needs to be? Also, in case it’s important, I am also new to the manager position although not new to the facility. I was promoted after more than 10 years here.

I suppose it’s possible that you’re being too clique-ish, but there’s nothing in the letter that indicates that.

It’s reasonable to ask her to change this because what she’s doing is exhausting behavior. She’s asking for a lot of your emotional energy and time to reassure her in each of these conversations (and if she keeps doing this, over time people are going to start avoiding her).

But it’s important to note that you haven’t really asked her to stop yet. You told her that you don’t want her to feel that she needs to justify everything, but that’s a very different message from telling her to stop. The first sounds like it’s about how she feels and that you’re trying to reassure her — which is lovely, but it’s not clearly telling her to change her behavior, so it’s not really fair to be surprised that you’re continuing to see it.

Hinting rather than being direct is a really common things that managers do — especially new managers, but you see it at all levels. To be a good manager, you cannot rely on hints or suggestions. You’ve got to be forthright and direct about pretty much everything as a manager — your expectations, your feedback to people, and most of all the times when you’re asking someone to do something differently. Not only will this be better for you (because you’ll get what you want from people far more often), but it’s much more fair to employees, who shouldn’t have to read between the lines to figure out what you want.

So. Have another conversation with her, and this time be clear about what you really mean — which isn’t that you don’t want her to feel she has to justify everything, but rather than you want her to stop justifying everything. For example: “When we talked the other day and I told you I didn’t want you to feel that you need to justify things to me or others on staff, I should have been clearer. I should have actually asked you to please stop justifying things! When I tell you something is fine, it really is fine. I want you to take me and other staff members at our word and not continue to explain why you’re asking, because that’s taking up a lot of time and it’s requiring a lot of energy to convince you that it’s okay! Of course, occasionally there really might be additional context that’s needed and in that case you should be speak up — but the majority of the time, like with X and Y earlier this week, I’d like you to work on accepting ‘yes’ and moving on. Can you work on that?”

You could also say, “If I have concerns about something, I will let you know or ask follow-up questions. If I’m not asking, it means you’ve already given me enough information and I don’t have any concerns that you’d need to address, so you don’t need to worry that I might.”

Frankly, depending on the relationship and how this conversation goes, you could also just ask her outright what’s behind the behavior. For example: “What’s going on when that happens? Have you worked places where you were expected to do a lot of explaining for small things and were you were penalized if you didn’t?” Who knows — this might or might not lead to insights (potentially for both of you!), but it’s worth asking. And even just the act of asking it will help reinforce that this is out-of-the-norm behavior.

From there, address it when it’s happening. She’s probably not going to completely fix this overnight, but you can help by reinforcing your expectations in the moment. If she goes into justifying mode, kindly say, “This is a case where you’ve already gotten a yes and you don’t need to justify anything!” Or, “This is what we agreed we wouldn’t do!” Or “Already settled and answered! I’m going to get back to what I was doing.” Or “This is what we talked about last week.” Or so forth. Don’t glower at her or be snippy about it; use a kind tone but be firm. (I’m emphasizing tone here because I’m guessing her behavior comes from deep insecurity, so let’s not add to it.)

Also, since it sounds like she really might not know how to end conversations gracefully, plan to play a more active role in doing that yourself in conversations with her for a while. Instead of waiting for her to end a conversation (since she may not), say things like “Okay, thanks — I’ll talk to you later!” and “Sounds good. See you in our meeting this afternoon!” and “Okay, I’ll get back to it then — could you close my door when you leave?” and other obvious “we are ending this now” signifiers. Hopefully over time she’ll learn that this is how one does this and will get more comfortable with doing it herself.

{ 314 comments… read them below }

  1. Juli G.*

    It’s much more likely this is leftover anxiety from her last job than anything you’re doing. Making the switch from a manager that monitors and questions you to one that treats you like an adult is a big adjustment.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Totally agree. I had an colleague that was like this because they came from a toxic environment. I think it took them around a year before they realized that we all trusted them to do their job.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yes – been there! Having anxiety to begin with and an environment where I was made to feel that I had to justify leaving when I got a phone call that my toddler had been taken to A&E … yeah, I got used to justifying *everything*.

        1. Jesca*

          Yeah. I had a manager who was physically trying to stop me from walking out one time after the school had called me telling me my son was violently ill. Justification for everything. I once had to justify to get 2 days off in a row! So yeah, she likely is just used to crazy environments. Just politely and as gentle as possible let her know you trust her and she should trust you.

        2. Casper Lives*

          Yes. I’m trying to break the habit now. I’ve also got anxiety and a bad previous workplace (the partner’s wife was the office manager for a long time). It’s hard!

    2. DanaScully*

      Yes, I thought exactly the same thing. As someone who suffers with anxiety, I’m probably sometimes guilty of this type of thing myself.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*


      This part of Alison’s script is crucial IMO.

      You could also say, “If I have concerns about something, I will let you know or ask follow-up questions. If I’m not asking, it means you’ve already given me enough information and I don’t have any concerns that you’d need to address, so you don’t need to worry that I might.”

    4. Allison*

      Yup. I was fired from a toxic job 4+ years ago and sometimes my anxiety from that job still crops up when I’m working for someone new, and it’s not clear what exactly they expect from me, and I default to assuming someone is super strict with very high expectations, until I feel comfortable being human around them.

      I only very recently learned that over-apologizing is emotionally exhausting for others and I need to stop doing it. Sometimes I still do it out of habit, but then I make myself stop.

    5. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Agree. This is a geographic area, in the sense that she is coming to you from a hellish place. Maybe even home, if she had very exacting parents. Who knows? But this is not your group, this is her issue. You will be doing her a great service if you can wean her from it.

      1. Anon one time only*

        Agreed. I have these exact behaviors and for me, they stem far more from controlling and abusive friendships and family relationships than any job I’ve ever had. The one time I didn’t over-justify something would be the one time I’d be punished for it. Despite the fact that I’m surrounded by loving and supportive people now and a fantastic work environment, old habits die hard.

      2. ReanaZ*

        Yeah, I was coming here to say the same thing. This behaviour is very, very common in kids who have been abused.

        (which is not to say you shouldn’t confront it because being kindly held accountable for fixing your maladaptive behaviours is essential for healing from abuse (and it IS annoying!)–but if you reframe it in your head as “this is a maladaptive behaviour” instead of “this is an irritating person” it might help reduce the annoyance while you confront this)

    6. LSP*

      I had some of this behavior as well from a toxic job, which, to some extent, carried over into a great job I had for the following 3 years! My manager there trusted me to do my job, but I still felt the need to explain to him absolutely everything that I was doing.

      What finally broke me of that was my current job where I work in one office, and my direct supervisor works in another office, in another state, so there’s no dropping by her office to let her know about an email I just sent her and what it meant, etc. (Thinking about how often I did that to my old manager makes me cringe so hard!)

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I was going to say this as well. The first thing I noticed at my most Toxic Job was that staff were on tenterhooks all the time, to the point where they had habits that were often indications of emotional abuse. The new employee’s prior job may not have been that severe, but I would put money on this being a holdover from working someplace where people said ok but then punished her for approved actions. I think there’s likely a lot of value in asking her where her justification habit is coming from. She may not even realize how ingrained it’s become. Giving her the opportunity to reflect (which may require raising the issue and letting her have time to think in over before picking the conversation back up) would likely be helpful to her.

    8. Queerty*

      Was coming here to say exactly this. A passive-aggressive manager or, frankly, even a family member (I’ve had this same conversation with my husband, but in reverse) can affect your workplace behavior for years.

    9. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      I’d guess it’s this and maybe a little of midwestern chattiness thrown in. It took me forever to get used to the idea that a normal environment doesn’t require a persuasive speech to be allowed to do normal everyday work things after spending a few years in a toxic workplace.

    10. Samata*

      Another agreement here and I was coming to say it’s likely past job hangover.

      I appreciate directness, but also had a very passive-aggressive boss years ago who would give me (and others) the green light and then talk about them to others peers of theirs about how incompetent they were. Time off, projects, etc. Didn’t matter.

      Last week I had a metal back and forth in my brain because something triggered me into past job behavior. Until she knows the lay of the land better it is going to be a hard habit to break. Telling her is a great first step, though.

    11. ML*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. I’ve worked a job where my boss would question everything I did, even if there was nothing wrong with what I was doing. It made me walk on egg shells and I did in fact carry this on to other jobs. I always felt like my decisions, no matter how small or basic they may be, I had to have a damn good answer for them. Her justifying behavior sounds like pre emptive defenses like I had

    12. Dust Bunny*

      Ding ding ding!

      My first couple of jobs made me justify EVERYTHING, endlessly. If I wanted to make any changes or improvements, no matter how slight, I had to have a pile of arguments and justifications, etc. And I could never be sure that once they agreed to something (I was a supervisor), they wouldn’t change their minds in the next week when the difference presented a slight inconvenience for them, even if it made some other part of our work a lot better. It looked like I wasn’t doing my job because they would ask something of me and then refuse to do anything that would enable me to carry it out. It was a constant uphill scramble just to stay level. I’ve been at my current, non-dysfunctional job for 13 years and I still get anxious sometimes about justifying myself.

      My guess is your new employee came from this kind of environment and is used to having to fight for scraps. Sit her down and tell her clearly (but nicely) that she’s doing OK otherwise and can take you at your word. She’ll still need some adjustment, but you’ll need to lay this out for her because I would bet she’s not used to bosses remembering what they agreed to and letting her follow through on it.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Also, the rewording? I would literally have my bosses rescind agreements because “that wasn’t what you said”, even if it was just a slight rewording of what I’d actually said (that is, same meaning, just not the exact same sentence). So I’d end up asking for things a dozen ways to make sure I had everything covered.

      2. AccidentalSysAdmin*

        My mother is from the Midwest, and is fond of quoting her dad(my grandfather), who was of the WWII generation: “Remember: work comes first!” She still says this in response when I have to leave for the evening after visiting them or I can’t make some kind of weekday plan. “That’s OK – work comes first, after all. ” This is definitely a generational mindset – possibly even more espoused regionally.

        That combined with my former workplace, which had people so devoted / brainwashed into the company mission that they would work six day weeks, not leave their desks at lunch, and extreme micromanagement around taking vacation time including subtle shaming around taking a sick day.

        When I started my next job I tended to overexplain any time off and the manager finally said: “It’s your time, we don’t need to know why you are taking it.” which was liberating.

        As a manager I don’t really mind, particularly since employees are voluntarily offering insight into what is going on in their lives without having to ask. But they shouldn’t do this out of a sense of obligation – or guilt.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          It wasn’t generational at my job. They were just jerks who didn’t trust their employees (who were undertrained–because they kept rescinding their agreements to let me schedule training–but otherwise sincere and honest) and didn’t want to hire enough staff to actually keep us running, so every time I needed to do something that might take me out of their immediate reach for awhile, I’d better have a whole thesis prepared on why it had to be done, even if it was necessary (machine maintenance or whatever).

    13. Gaia*

      Yes. I have a member of my team who constantly tries to justify everything. My team has a lot more autonomy than is usual in this industry and he came from a job where he had literally no autonomy. Every question had a specific policy and you never deviated from that policy. Here, we have general guidelines but really people are allowed to solve problems in whatever way makes sense for them and our clients. I’ve been working with him for a little over a year now and it has steadily gotten better but it is clear that this is a long term development path.

    14. Gaia*

      This is also the same employee who made me realize that when I asked “can you do X before noon today?” he heard “drop everything and do X before noon today.” We had to sit down and explain that when I start a question with “Can” I am actually asking if his priorities and workload allow that to get down. It is an actual question. If it isn’t a question, I will not pose it as one and would instead say “I need X to get done before noon today.”

      That is now something I mention to all my new folks because it has become clear that “can” is often code for “do” and that isn’t fair.

      1. Book Cover*

        Yes to this. My parents both used “can” as “do” growing up and even if I had other priorities, until I was able to verbalize that I had other priorities (that they gave me!), I would need to finish one thing *then* do the thing I was asked to do. And I am definitely the type of person that the OP is having problems with, and am aware of this behavior and am working on it.

      2. Your Weird Uncle*

        At OldJob, my boss noted that I needed to be better at prioritizing work that came in, because in her words ‘not everything is an emergency – you’re new here, so I trust you will get better at recognizing what can wait and what needs to be done now.’ Fine, okay. But when she walked in the next week and gave me something to do that she said she needed in a week, she bollocked me the next day when I didn’t have it done.

        Communication wasn’t her strong suit.

    15. Callie*

      yeaaaaaaaaah. I still catch myself doing something similar, because my boss ALMOST TEN YEARS AGO would demand all kinds of justification and explanations for the smallest deviation from “normal,” especially when it concerns absences and then scream at you if your justification wasn’t good enough for her.

    16. GoneSouth*

      This is so true! I had a lot of leftover anxiety from my last job where we were micromanaged and nitpicked to oblivion. It’s hard to adjust to a totally new work environment.

      Also I moved from a small midwest town to a city in the south infamous for being very culturally difference. And I have had A LOT of trouble adjusting to things here in the workplace. It’s been really difficult. The OP might want to keep in mind this is just a culture shock type situation and over time she’ll adjust to it. I’ve been here a year and a half and I am just starting to get used to how things are done business-wise here.

    17. FD*

      Yeah, I thought the same. If you’ve gotten used to a manager who jumps down your throat at the slightest provocation, you get used to having all your justifications ready.

    18. MicroManagered*

      Recovering over-explainer here! My bat-signal lit up on this too.

      I think this piece of advice is key:

      “What’s going on when that happens? Have you worked places where you were expected to do a lot of explaining for small things and were you were penalized if you didn’t?”

      It sounds like her sense of what’s normal needs re-calibration because she comes from a toxic workplace.

    19. Chalupa Batman*

      Yes to this, and many of these comments, because so many kinds of unpleasant office behavior can lead to a hangup like this. I used to over-explain a lot because the goalposts were always moving at OldJob. What was fine one day could need 7 layers of approval the next. I learned to have a detailed justification ready for every request, and an explanation anytime I varied from the norm in any way. It took me a long time to convince myself that my boss doesn’t really care about all of my symptoms, “I’m ill and won’t be in today” is sufficient.

    20. Pomona Sprout*

      I totally agree. In fact, I came in here to say this:

      “Have you worked places where you were expected to do a lot of explaining for small things and were you were penalized if you didn’t?”

      I’d bet dollars to donuts that this is the case. Working in certain kind of a toxic environment can really warp one’s sense of what’s okay and what isn’to the extent that you can get brainwashed into feeling like nothing is really okay, ever. I’ve worked in sone places that were like a minefield, where at any time, you could find yourself in deep trouble over something perfectly innocent.

      Case in point: I once worked for a bozo who gave me a a negative rating for attendance on my first performance review, because I had used what he thought were too many sick days. I did use up all my paid sick leave that year, only because my daughter caught chicken pox and her day care didn’t allow kids with chicken pox to attend until all the lesions were completely dried and scabbed over. (Sorry if that’s tmi for anyone.) She had to stay home for a week, and since my husband had just started a new job, I had to stay home with her myself the whole time. I used up all my available sick keave as I said, but I didn’t need to take any additional unpaid tine. No harm, no foul, right? Ha! My bozo boss thought the number of sick days I had used was exdessive; the reason WHY I took them was irrelevant, as far as he was concerned.

      That is exactly the kind of thing that can mess with people’ minds over time. I’d bet anything this employee was subjected to similar insanity in her last job and has forgotten what it’s like to work for a boss who’s a reasonable, rational human being, rather than a loon.

    21. Gurl*

      Yes!! This was literally me. This letter could literally have been written *about* me, haha. I came from toxic workplaces before where they treated the employees like children, not adults; my current workplace is amazing, and luckily my supervisor understands this and the fact that I have anxiety so he’s pretty understanding. I love it, but it’s honestly a HUGE adjustment, and I’m definitely going to have to sort through all of my leftover issues from previous workplaces before moving on to somewhere that may not be so supportive.

  2. Manager Anon*

    There are definitely regional differences that could be at play here. I hire people from a lot of different regional backgrounds and what we might consider “efficient” conversation in the northeast can seem really clipped and rude to people from the west, midwest, and south. I notice it a lot with people from the midwest – ending conversations can be a whole task.

    This sounds like another level of that, it definitely seems exacerbated by insecurity. But it also might not seem that strange to her in a different context! Definitely be kind – changing locales in the U.S. can be really culturally daunting.

    1. Snark*

      What part of the West do you have in mind? I got the endless chats in Texas a lot, but in Colorado we’re pretty to the point most of the time.

      1. Manager Anon*

        California, specifically. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about the culture here seeming cold and closed off from California.

          1. S*

            Ha. My mom spoke like a New Yorker. When she would go to California, people were constantly telling her to calm down. She was just talking!

            1. Editor Person*

              Oh god, telling a New Yorker to “calm down” is going to have the opposite effect. I say this as a native of the state and NYC resident for a decade.

                1. Snark*

                  I mean, it’s probably more soothing than “Jesus, stop talking at me like you’re angry and just did a rail of coke in the bathroom,” which is how a really intense New Yorker can sometimes come off….

            2. Mona Lisa*

              Oh, my Californian husband sometimes suggests I use my “inside voice.” My inside voice is louder than most (former opera singer), and it drives me nuts for someone to suggest that my natural voice isn’t appropriate!

              1. JeanB in NC*

                You can lower the volume on your voice, especially if you’re a trained singer. Loud talking is very distracting at work (or anywhere really).

              2. Snark*

                I say this as a large guy with a naturally booming voice who gets loud when he’s telling a joke or drinking or both. ….sometimes a “louder than most” – your words – inside voice actually isn’t appropriate. Why does that drive you nuts?

                1. Myrin*

                  Yeah, I’ve talked before about how I usually have the loudest voice in any given conversation and that I’m basically incapable of accurately gauging how loud I actually appear (I have some stuff going on with my ears) but it’s completely fine for others to ask me to lower my volume as long as they’re not a jerk about it!

                2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels (formerly ancolie)*

                  If he’s actually asking her to “use your inside voice”, I’d bristle, too. That phrasing is maddening. It sounds so condescending and like he’s talking to a 3 year old.

                3. Marisol*

                  Your voice is a part of your personality/self expression, and it can be unpleasant to have someone suggest that your personality or your spontaneous way of expressing yourself needs to be changed. The feedback may be correct and neither side is wrong, but I can understand how someone would feel bothered by it.

              3. Rusty Shackelford*

                You know what drives me nuts? My coworker whose natural voice isn’t appropriate. It’s louder than most, and it’s extremely intrusive and distracting. :-|

                1. Alienor*

                  I’ve got one of those coworkers. I don’t think he means to do it–he just naturally has a very deep, resonant, projecting voice and should probably be on the radio or something–but I shudder every time I see that he’s in the office because I know it’s going to be eight hours of him booming away behind me.

                2. Cherith Ponsonby*

                  I see what you did there!

                  I myself have a perfectly appropriate natural voice most of the time, but I tend to get very animated when I’m excited and haven’t had my tablets, and sometimes it can make people think I’m upset with them. I wouldn’t think it was rude for someone to pull me up on that, especially at work.

              4. Meg*

                I completely get why that’d be infuriating, it’s such a condescending turn of phrase. My husband and I are both loud on occasion, and we take turns asking the other turn down the volume by a notch or two. It can still take me aback, but it’s a far less loaded request.

            3. Snark*

              But she wasn’t, not really. New Yorkers have a very insistent, intense, driving conversational style that qualifies as aggressive by California standards. They weren’t telling her to calm down, per se, they were telling her to get out of their faces.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yes! Sometimes Californians say “calm down,” and it is microaggression-y, but Snark is right that we usually mean “get out of my face/space.”

            4. Jadelyn*

              CA has a…more laid-back culture in many ways, so people talking loudly or rapidly can come off aggressive and could definitely have someone saying “calm down” thinking you’re upset about something, or way more keyed-up than you need to be for whatever’s going on in the conversation.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, weird. I don’t think we’re more chatty, but we are more indirect and superficially warm to people. Like, you ask how someone’s doing before you jump into tasks I remember the first time I learned that in the northeast you don’t smile at strangers with whom you make eye contact (a common practice in CA).

          1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

            When I first moved to Wisconsin someone offered me a coupon in the grocery store for a product I was looking at. I was completely weirded out and suspicious of their motives (thinking they were going to try to chat me up about finding Jesus or joining their MLM), but honestly they just had a coupon they weren’t going to use and thought I might want it. Honestly, I still find it bizarre when strangers strike up a conversation with me, but I’m a New York girl living in a Wisconsin world, so I try to roll with it.

            1. Future Analyst*

              Ha. I lived there for 13 years, and I still think it’s weird/worthy of suspicion. It feels invasive! (And I get that they are trying to be nice, but it just feels uncomfortable.)

              1. Soon to be former fed*

                I’m very frugal, and I hate to see coupons go to waste and offer them to other folks in line if I can’t use them. No pressire to accept them, so I’ve never felt I was being invasive and people have loved unexpectedly saving a few bucks. I love when it happens to me! Nothing weird or worthy of suspicion here. Native Chicagoan living in the metro area now.

                1. Jesca*

                  Yeah I would offer someone a coupon in line, but at the same time, I generally will not speak to them either.

                  I will say this: If someone freaking smiles at me while they pass me in the store, I will honest to god think they are making fun of me or wanted something.

                2. nonymous*

                  little late to the game, but in my lovely midwest town, people would leave their extra coupon tucked by the item. So the $0.50 Oreos coupon would be next to a box of Oreos, and presumably only the people actively considering a purchase would even see it.

            2. Dolphins Need Their Feathers Back*

              Lol You should try moving from WI to the Southern states, even more strangers are friendly

              1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

                My in-laws live in western Tennessee. I haaaaaaaaate going to the store there because the cashiers are so damn chatty. Just give me my stuff so I can GTFO!

                1. Susanne*

                  There is an awesome Miss Manners column from years back about how it really *isn’t* “friendly” when you chat up the cashier (beyond social pleasantries and maybe a comment about the weather or somesuch). The gist of it was — “how dare you think you’re so important that you are the social equal of the cashier, a person just trying to do his / her job as efficiently as possibly so he or she can move on to the next person.” Before everyone jumps, it was not implying the cashier was “below” the customer — rather, it was the other way around — implying that the customer was not the social equal of someone who was actually contributing to society by performing a job. It was classic, and so so true.

            3. Your Weird Uncle*

              Wisconsin native here! A former coworker once came back from a lunch trip to Target and said a random woman in the parking lot offered him either a hot dog or a hamburger….apparently she bought both at the cafeteria and couldn’t eat them. So he took her up on it and came back with a hot dog. :D

              We can be a friendly bunch!

              ps. I can vouch that he survived the parking lot hot dog without incident.

            4. NF*

              When I moved to Wisconsin from the Mid-Atlantic, I noticed two things about the grocery-shopping experience:
              1) People would leave coupons on the shelf next to the relevant items. I saw this frequently enough that I could only assume a sizeable number of do-gooders were clipping coupons from the Sunday paper with the express intention of leaving them for strangers.
              2) The cashiers always (always!) said “do you want a receipt at all?” (as opposed to “do you want a receipt?”). I was so tempted to say something along the lines of “oh yeah, but just a little one.”

              1. FormerEmployee*

                I am a coupon fairy. The market(s) used to have a coupon exchange kiosk where you could leave coupons and pick up ones other people left there. They stopped doing that years ago (don’t know why). That’s when I started leaving coupons on shelves. If I can, I’ll leave them right by the item. If I have too many/am in a hurry, I’ll just leave them all in one place where they are easily seen (shelf at the end of an aisle).

                Despite the fact that I am originally from NY and have lived in California for years, I sometimes suspect that I was a Midwesterner in a former life.

        1. a1*

          I don’t think it’s MN thing. I live in MN and I only know 2 people that are like this. And it’s not because of past toxic work environments. They just keep rambling. You think things are done, and then they add more.

          Of course, a “MN goodbye” when leaving a party or social engagement is a whole other thing. :-P

          1. jj*

            Fellow Minnesotan. The Long Minnesota Goodbye is something my husband’s family holds the patent on. You will say goodbye in the living room, walk to the doorway, say goodbye while putting on coats, then they’ll follow you to the car for another goodbye, and then there will be a follow up text about how much fun it all was. I love my in-laws but always have to give my husband a hard time about the “Long *LastName* Goodbye” — it’s excessive even by MN standards!!

            1. kb*

              My mom is from a big, Minnesotan family (my mom is one of 8 kids), so we like to joke that saying goodbye generally takes just as long, if not longer, than the event itself.

            2. Nan*

              You’re married to my husband????

              My family is something like “yo, peace out, thanks for the food” His family is an entire ritual. Gah!!

              Both from the midwest, though. Iowa on my side, Illinois on his. But his family is the touchy feely type and mine isn’t.

      2. Gaia*

        Oregon and Washington. But especially Oregon. It is an infamously friendly state and our coworkers there would be so flummoxed after their first conversation with our Boston and New York offices. I’d have to explain that these people are actually really nice, they just communicate differently and I’d have to explain to the Boston and New York coworkers that their Oregon peers are actually really efficient workers, they just highly value relationship building rapport.

      3. Preppy6917*

        Having lived in the south (including Texas) for my first 33 years, I was so glad to move to the PNW where long, drawn out conversations about nothing aren’t expected.

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          On the other hand, I have a hard time dealing with people in the PNW because they expect such a high level of softness and passiveness. Like I’m from the South and I was brash and rude and abrasive to my colleagues there when giving my blandest possible professional face, which was kind of mind-blowing.

          1. nonymous*

            haha I moved from PNW to midwest and was told I was too direct and efficient in my communication patterns.

            And then when I moved back after some years away, I definitely saw what they were saying. But…..I have never felt that people in the PNW are giving me a polite yes. So there’s that. I also live in a very Red region on the western side, while in the midwest I lived in a very blue area.

            I was so very tempted this last election cycle to get a Kang and Kodos campaign poster just to annoy my neighbors.

      4. The OG Anonsie*

        God, I’m from Texas and this was a whole thing when I moved away. It was really weird, suddenly my conversations with people became… Awkward. Like I’m repeating myself because they didn’t really respond in a way that said to me that they fully accepted what I was telling them. So I’d keep going because I was uncomfortable with leaving it without feeling like I got their actual reaction to what I’d told them, and then they would get uncomfortable because I was repeating myself and they didn’t know why.

        It’s a really really tiny difference that’s huge– you do the circle-talking when you aren’t sure of how the other person took the information you gave them, or you aren’t sure if they really heard what you meant. I imagine this employee is getting a “yep that’s fine” and going… Ok, and? Is it really fine, did you actually catch that I told you I was going to be late? You didn’t react at all!

    2. fposte*

      Whereas I think it’s a red herring, at least somewhat; this would be excessive in my Midwestern office too. The NE might cut her off earlier than we would, but it sounds like in either place there’d be people trying desperately to escape.

      1. Snark*

        This. There’s really no region where “keep talking for ten minutes after you got to yes” is a thing in the workplace.

      2. paul*

        yeah. I’m in Texas and had to train myself out of doing this early on. Even here that wouldn’t be really OK.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yep. Fellow Texan, and on the inside I would be saying “please oh please just leave already, there is literally no point to this part of the conversation,” and after a while I’d start to avoid her.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Co-sign. My whole mom’s side of the family is from the Midwest, and this would be excessive even by their regional cultural norms.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Unless it’s while you’re saying goodbye and leaving a social event, a process which apparently takes half an hour. But not at work!

          1. Bryce*

            I have *no* idea how to properly disengage from a conversation. Usually things peter out and I awkwardly say “I’m gonna go that way now.”

        2. JamieS*

          You have to consider that in the Midwest, least where I’m from, we often give people “an out” so they aren’t expected to instantly end a conversation after getting agreement to a demand (which can be seen as a rather rude thing to do).

          If we weren’t given outs I’d bet most people I know would do exactly what this employee is doing which is trying to navigate an end to the conversation without being abrupt or rude.

          1. Cherith Ponsonby*

            Can you expand on outs? It’s taken me literally decades to learn how to end a conversation gracefully (I’m still not great at it but at least I can now achieve a passing mark) and I’m always looking for ways I can help out my fellow social non-adepts.

      4. Literary Engineer*

        That’s what I thought as well. I’m from Indiana and live currently in Ohio, though the biggest city. However, I’ve spent a lot of time all over and this is all over, it’s really not a regional thing. I wouldn’t even say it’s an AMERICAN thing.

      5. LawPancake*

        Yup, I’ve got an admin who does this and it’s definitely not regional it’s just her personality. Drives me up the wall. She can make a yes or no question last 20 minutes. My strategy is to answer the question and go back to what I was doing (this has no effect on her monologue but at least I’m getting work done).

      6. The OG Anonsie*

        Yeah, I think there’s potentially layers. It’s something that people start doing when they work somewhere that expects excessive explanations and apologies, and it’s also something that people from the South and Midwest sometimes do when they aren’t sure if they’re being heard.

    3. Justin*

      I would agree with this as well. Peppering my conversation with niceties isn’t really something I do in NYC, and I had a former colleague who complained often that everyone she worked with was “rude.” I bet some were, but it’s just how we interact.

    4. McWhadden*

      I’m from Boston and was working at a NYC law firm when I had to spend many months in Minnesota for a client.

      There was definitely some major differences in culture. People were definitely less direct and assertive than what I was used to.

      But I still think this specific behavior wouldn’t be too typical.

      It could be a factor though in why she doesn’t feel totally comfortable just asking for things.

    5. Diane Nguyen*

      My best assessment is that regional differences are exacerbating something that would be a problem just about anywhere. OP is more comfortable with efficient communication than this employee seems to be, for sure, but I also think the employee doesn’t have good “ending a conversation” skills. Alison’s last paragraph addresses that really nicely.

    6. Turquoise Cow*

      Maybe? But I’ve lived in the New York area my entire life and I’ve known quite a few people (also natives) who tend to ramble for longer than necessary. I think it’s much more a personal quirk/insecurity thing than a regional thing. I’ve definitely caught myself doing too much talking on occasions when I feel extra need to justify myself. But I haven’t spent a lot of time outside this region (working, anyway), so I could be wrong.

    7. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      I have the reverse happen to me – I moved from upstate NY to Wisconsin for a job, and I was heavily coached by my bosses to be less “abrasive”. My nature is to be very direct and efficient in communications, but apparently I was coming off as rude and overly brusque to co-workers and customers. It took me a very long time (and I still struggle with it from time to time even after 16 years of living here) to slow my roll and be more casually informative as opposed to cutting to the chase immediately.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I’m very much the same way re just cutting to the chase right off the bat. I legitimately have to remind myself every time I make a phone call or pick up my phone for an inbound call that it’s considered rude to go “Hi, what can I do for you?” without taking a moment to at least ask “how’s it going/how are you?” first. I’m from California so it’s not a cultural thing for me, I’m just super task oriented and it doesn’t come naturally at all for me to waste time on small talk when there’s obviously something you need from me, just tell me what it is and let me work on getting it done for you.

        1. Alienor*

          Yeah, I live in California (not a native, but I’ve been here for well over half my life at this point) and I’m not great at small talk either. I think I err on the side of ending conversations too abruptly–I’ll ask a question, get the answer, say “Ok, I’ll do that, thanks!” and start to leave, and the other person will look at me like I have two heads because we’re not easing out of the interaction with three more minutes of small talk.

      2. INTP*

        Wisconsin is where I lived in the Midwest and as mentioned below, I never figured out how to tell what people meant by what they said. In California we’re definitely less direct than the northeast and we might phrase something slightly less directly than we literally mean (“Do you want to do these TPS reports this afternoon?”), but in the upper Midwest it’s like people go out of their way to make it sound like they don’t care at all whether you implement their suggestion or not and they’re only saying it for your benefit…when what they really mean is “this is a mandatory part of your job.” In 2.5 years I never learned to tell the difference.

        1. Argh!*

          Yes yes yes! My boss expects me to read her mind and it drives me nuts. She thinks I’m being too demanding when I tell her I want explicit instructions and a deadline. I think she’s being a fuzzy thinker.

        2. Traveling Teacher*

          OMG, I just read this to my husband, and he is crying with laughter. You have finally explained my mother to him in an understandable fashion. (He’s European. He has a really hard time understanding who means what they say and who doesn’t when we go to the midwest!)

      3. Argh!*

        I’m still working on that after almost ten years. To make matters worse, it’s too “polite” to tell people if you don’t like their style so people have complained to my boss. Supposedly our workplace values “diversity” but that doesn’t apply to communication style.

    8. Anon anon anon*

      I’m guessing she comes from some sort of toxic environment – work or family – or that it’s a personality thing. She could be someone who needs a lot of attention. Or she could have recently been around people who need a lot of attention. Or it could be an anxiety issue, as other people have suggested.

      I would have a conversation about how it’s inappropriate for the workplace because it wastes time. But be nice about it and give her a chance to explain where she’s coming from if she wants to. She might find it helpful to talk about it.

      1. fposte*

        The fact that she may find it helpful doesn’t make it appropriate for it to happen with the boss, though. Honestly, since the overexplaining is already a problem I would have a bad reaction as a manager to overexplaining the overexplaining.

    9. Else*

      I was also going to say this – I moved to the Midwest from the South recently, and we do talk around a bit before getting to the point in the South, but we got NUTHIN on Midwesterners. They will just ramble on and on about nothing at all forever, and worse, about their personal medical issues, their families’ personal issues, and way more. I don’t know if it’s just where I am, but it can be really off-putting. I do NOT want to know about their mother’s digestive problems, and I do not need endless continuing justification and explanation for everything – and they do do both.

      1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        Ha! If you are in a smaller area, we all grew up knowing that everyone knows our business anyway. Might as well talk about it. LOL

    10. INTP*

      Totally agree with this. And in the Midwest, people often (to my point of view, I’m sure this is not how it’s intended) averse to directness and don’t actually say what they mean. A boss might say “Sure, take the afternoon for the appointment” while silently thinking that it is way too early in your tenure to take any time off. I lived there for years and never figured out how to tell the difference between a polite suggestion and a non-optional command phrased as a polite suggestion. I pissed off coworkers/bosses in multiple jobs as a result. I was so grateful when they finally snapped in frustration because then I would know what they really wanted! (And I’m not a dunce that can only decipher suggestions/instructions/commands at face value. In California, a command might be issued like a firm suggestion. In the Midwest, it’s disguised as something that just spontaneously occurred to the issuer that they only say for your benefit in case you feel like considering it.)

      In terms of non-directness, I think the Midwest and Northeast might be the furthest extremes in the US. I’d definitely expect some cultural friction about that. I think the coworker will eventually adjust and figure out that if you have a problem with her, you’ll say it. (Or she’ll be unable to adjust and move back to the Midwest.)

      1. Work Wardrobe*

        “The Midwest” is enormous and includes huge urban/suburban areas where we, surprisingly, know how to speak concisely.

        1. Natalie*

          And yet it’s a pretty common and well recognized conversational style in the Midwest (lifelong Minnesotan, here). It might be less pronounced in urban areas, but that doesn’t mean it’s absent.

        2. INTP*

          My experience was Milwaukee, not a rural area. Again, I’m sure it’s not intended that way or perceived that way locally. That’s just how it was from my perspective (and it happened at multiple workplaces, and I even talked to friends from the area about it who also couldn’t tell me how to know when I’m being told to do something besides just assuming everything is a directive, so it’s not like it’s something one person did that I’m imagining is typical of a whole region).

      2. Samata*

        My experience with a boss like your was in a deeply southern state with a boss who was American-born but raised in Germany (military family) until high school. Graduated high school in DC before moving south.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I went through years at home of a yes that meant no or a no that meant yes. Full sentences had double or even triple meanings.

        On a good day, I call this head games. I have no patience left for it as I got totally burned out. Say what you mean and mean what you say, that is where I go to. If I can’t get a straight forward answer from someone I will look for someone else to ask.

        I had asked a neighbor if it was okay to fill in a drainage ditch out back. He said it was fine and gave me a very long answer. I filled it in. Then he reported me to the local board for filling it in. So I said, “Why did you tell me it was okay to fill it in, if it’s such a problem now?” He could not answer that question.
        I don’t have patience for this stuff. The board collectively rolled their eyes.

        I see this stuff as running in pockets here and there. Perhaps it is a way of communicating that families teach each other. Some families are very large and their habits could leak out into the community. It can be a very damaging way of communicating.

    11. Work Wardrobe*

      Disagree. That’s far too much generalizing.

      You’ll find constant justifiers and clipped answers in every part of the country.

    12. anathema*

      I’ve just started working with a large org in the middle of the US. Ending conversations has become painful for me. I’ve had conference calls sit in silence because no one will end them.

    13. Triplestep*

      Communication styles are regional AND cultural. I am a NY Jew and I have to work hard not to talk like one in the rest of the Northeast, where my entire career has played out. Most people like the direct style, but higher-ups have told my managers I need to pay attention to “tone.”

      The flip side of this is that I often do not understand people when they are being indirect or vague. Sometimes the answer to a “yes or no” question is “no”, but there are conflict-avoiders who will go to great lengths to never say that word. (Come to think of it THIS may also be a cultural/regional thing!) I have been known to come off as badgering people by repeating/rephrasing a question simply because I didn’t understand the answer the first time. When the question is “yes or no”, I often just don’t get it if the answer does not contain one of those two words. It’s gotten to be kind of a joke with my husband (non-Jew, non-NYer) but I need to watch it at work.

      1. Argh!*

        I deal with conflict-avoidance constantly, and then if I guess wrong on the not-said specs I get criticized for it. I don’t think it really works for my coworkers either but my boss refuses to consider that her vagueness is causing problems for others. She thinks she’s being “nice” but it’s not “nice” to be vague, it’s just vague!

        1. Triplestep*


          My old boss was vague, but I don’t think she was being nice – I think she was just good at sounding like she was giving direction and then you’d walk away and think “wait, what am I supposed to do?” I don’t think she really knew. I thought it was just me, but when she left, my teammates confessed they experienced the same thing.

          She was replaced by someone very decisive, who gets criticized by his management for being “too emotional.” I am about to leave this job, and it’s largely due to his management’s style and actions – not his. I don’t always agree with him, but his communication style makes him the perfect manger for me.

      2. nonegiven*

        It’s a yes or no question. I don’t need to hear a 20 minute lecture and still not know the answer.

    14. sb*

      Yeah, and if this is a cultural difference, one thing that can help is to talk to her more — but guide the conversation onto things you actually want to have a discussion on. (Or a little bit of personal catch-up, if time allows.) If she feels like (possibly at a gut level she might not even be able to articulate) that it would be rude to leave the conversation so quickly, this will fix that. And then as she gets used to shorter but not super-short conversations, they can naturally get shorter and shorter.

    15. Lindsay J*

      Yeah, it was an adjustment moving from New Jersey to Texas. What was normal in New Jersey is considered abrupt and rude down here, and it took me awhile to key into why people were reacting to me poorly, and even longer to figure out how to do anything about it.

  3. Snark*

    This is something to nip in the bud right quick, though, because Alison is right when she says that this is going to make people avoid her. It’s insanely annoying to have to do this kind of constant reassurance, and people are going to either avoid her or just snap at her. There was a guy at my last job who did this, a peer not a direct report, and I know multiple bosses and colleagues lost their temper with him after he’d rattle on like this for five, ten minutes AFTER being given a go-ahead. He’d just hem and haw and recap every internal debate and question, and it’s like, DUDE, I already said YES go AWAY.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      So, so agreed. I had a junior colleague who would constantly apologize. It even happened when she interviewed me. We tried some gentle teasing (she knew it was an issue), but it got so bad that I nearly lost my temper with her. I brought it up to our manager who would agree to discuss it with her, but he never did. Because she didn’t report to me, I wasn’t able to sit her down and talk to her firmly the way Alison suggests, but I so wanted to, because honestly she just made the whole office wrap itself in her drama and insecurity.

      The first concern here is for the direct report’s confidence, the second (it’s a close second) is that this type of behavior often drives colleagues batty, and that’s never good.

      1. Snark*

        Honestly, I feel like even as a “senior colleague who’s been in the workplace longer” you could have taken her aside. I’ve had a few colleagues do this for me with my own annoying workplace tics and it was so appreciated.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Oh, I tried, believe me. But she never took me seriously because I wasn’t able to put my foot down. She looked at it as, “Oh, AvonLady’s trying to be helpful, but this is HOW I AM and it’s not a big deal.” Frustrating!

          1. Liz*

            My junior colleague does the exact same thing and it’s so frustrating!

            I’m not trying to be bossy or go over my manager’s head, but I’ve been in her shoes and have made the same mistakes. But whenever I point out these things (“Hey, you don’t need to preface every question with, ‘Sorry’ or ‘This might be a stupid but…'” or “Don’t email the exec team overly detailed walls of text”), she says, “Ok cool, thanks!” … then when she repeats the gaffe she laughs about it and claims it’s just how she is. Honestly I’ve all but stopped giving her advice because it’s become so annoying.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah—the employee doesn’t want to develop a reputation as someone who can’t take “yes” for an answer.

    3. Turquoise Cow*

      I had a coworker who did this sort of thing also. Apologizing and explaining. She also had this kind of nervous laugh that she did after almost any sentence. And she saved *everything* even though there was no need to save most of it, and if we needed to refer back to it, there was an extensive electronic record.

      At first it was like, oh, she’s new. When she gets some confidence, she’ll know she doesn’t need to ask and apologize so much, and she’ll trust us when we tell her to get rid of the pile of papers, and she doesn’t need to write these notes on things, etc. But she didn’t really ever change. I don’t know if our boss ever spoke to her about it, but he knew it bothered others and told me it bothered him, and he was usually *very* direct about these things, so I imagine he did.

      She apparently used to be a manager before that job – managing a fairly large team. I don’t know if her experience there led to excessive apologizing/explaining, or if she was a bad manager and was fired.

      1. Snark*

        “She also had this kind of nervous laugh that she did after almost any sentence”

        I don’t know why, but nervous punctuation laughs are like fingernails on a chalkboard for me, and it’s worse because I’m like oh god the sentence is ending wait for it wait for it AUGH GOD THERE IT IS *full body cringe*

        1. JulieBulie*

          When people laugh nervously, they sound guilty. They’re probably not guilty, but I can’t help associating nervous laughter with trying to hide something.

        2. Turquoise Cow*

          That was basically my reaction.

          I tried really hard to be understanding and patient with her but it would happen after normal sentences, and that made it really hard.

          “How was your weekend?”

          “Oh, ha-ha, it was nice. I just hung out and home and then I had to go shopping, ha-ha.”

          “That’s a nice shirt.”

          “Thanks, ha-ha. I wasn’t going to buy it but the store I usually go to had a fire, so, ha-ha, I had to go elsewhere. Ha-ha.”

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        So, as to your last sentence, a lot of people are (understandably) mentioning insecurity and anxiety, but my first thought was guilt. Perhaps she had performance issues at a prior job and this insecurity stems from that?

    4. DeskBird*

      The thing that would annoy me most is re-wording the same information over and over again. That drives me nuts. And it might not go away when the over justifying things does. You might need to have a separate conversation with her about saying things once then moving on – when people get into the habit of needing to say things over and over again it is something they do with everything.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        My boss does that. He says something and I get it and he says “do you know what I mean?” And I say “yes” but then he continues to explain in in a different way. And I’m like “yes, I *still* know what you mean…”

    5. Epica*

      I had a boss who shut this down pretty quickly, and I’m actually grateful for it. I asked if it was okay to leave early one day and he said yes. I then said, “It’s really okay?” and he said, “If I’ve said yes, don’t ask again. I might change my mind.” So now I take people at their word on that first yes and don’t ask again.

    6. AW*

      The worst part is that snapping at someone who does that only confirms their fear that the person saying “Yes” is actually upset with them, thus reinforcing their desire to keep apologizing.

      1. fposte*

        I was just thinking something similar with the comment about the young girl below! So many dysfunctional patterns end up reinforcing themselves that way.

  4. fposte*

    I worked with somebody like this–he was lovely, but he could not stop himself. A senior colleague took him in hand for coaching, which was really helpful.

    I would say that the OP can be more direct on the conversation-ending thing even than most of the samples, too; some of those are still relying on convention rather than direct statement. “Okay, since we’ve covered it I’m calling the conversation done. Thanks!” (With my co-worker I also would walk away as I said the conventional close–I decided my role was to politely conclude my end but not necessarily to make him stop talking.)

    1. Triplestep*

      I worked with someone who kept a large water bottle on his desk, and when a conversation needed to be over, he would get up, leave his own office, and walk to the water fountain to fill his bottle.

  5. Dennawe*

    Honestly, my first thought is that she either has an anxiety disorder, or she came from an abusive environment and was traumatized.

    1. Snark*

      My first thought is that both of those are kind of a reach, but what does it matter? Armchair diagnoses aren’t that productive, which is why avoiding them is a site rule.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I agree with you on a broad basis, but I do think that it’s helpful to keep these things in mind when approaching someone, which is part of Alison’s suggestion. I have leftover issues from my last job that absolutely affected my first few months at my current job and I continue to fight them. While that’s work-related and separate from my own anxiety issues, I kind of wish I could speak openly about these problems, and it helps me find solutions when I’m the senior colleague/manager in these situations.

        1. Snark*

          Sure. I just push back against sympathetically pathologizing every personality quirk and foible. I totally agree that approaching problems like this in an empathetic and kind way is good, and providing someone space to work through stuff is just human courtesy and consideration, but “hmmm, must be an anxiety disorder or abuse!” doesn’t get us anywhere.

          1. Lissa*

            Yes, and the very first thread here is dozens of comments saying it’s probably something like this – do we really need it repeated multiple times that it’s probably a reaction to something bad that happened to her? It might be, it might not be, but there’s probably not really a way for the OP to find out and even if so, I don’t see how this changes things.

            Maybe there are people out there who magically stop being annoyed by something when multiple people point out it could be a diagnosis/reaction to something bad/not their fault in some way. Sadly, I am not one of those people. I can tell myself over and over again not to hold it against them, but it’s never made me suddenly enjoy those interactions. Especially when it’s something I have almost certainly thought of myself and taken into consideration.

      2. Dennawe*

        I wasn’t armchair diagnosing her, I was providing suggestions. I’m not saying for sure either of those things happened to her, just that those are things that may apply that weren’t touched on in Alison’s repsonse.

        1. Snark*

          “Providing suggestions” is exactly what I’m talking about, and whether they apply or not is irrelevant to coming up with actionable advice.

    2. Squeeble*

      Even if that were true, we can’t know and it doesn’t matter. Plus it’s a bit irritating when any awkward social proclivities a person has are assumed to be based in some kind of disorder or trauma. We all have our flaws and bad habits when it comes to interacting with other people in a society.

    3. Yorick*

      These are “suggested” armchair diagnoses. There’s a tendency to do that here, and I don’t think it’s helpful at all. I actually think it’s a pretty bad way to look at things – we should assume that people are healthy and normal and that we can address problems or conflicts in a routine way, unless we have extra information. Anyway, it’s against the site rules.

  6. Anonymous Poster*

    There could be two things–

    I grew up in the midwest where missing work for these sorts of things reflected badly on the person missing work. Most people understood and it really wasn’t a big deal, but it was expected that the person needing to miss work at least provide a good excuse and try their best not to let it happen again. But it was definitely a cultural thing where it was something you really tried not to do, and it was expected to provide a reason why you had to beg off of work for some reason.

    I also worked in a place where these sorts of explanations were expected whenever missing work. It was a place where there definitely needed to be coverage all the time, but there were enough staff where this very rarely was ever an issue. Even so, management would occasionally deny requests because another person had a higher priority reason to miss work that day and they needed coverage, and they were trying to balance one another’s needs for missing work.

    I think it could be a conflation of cultural upbringing and past work experiences. It helped me immensely when I had a manager take me aside and say, “I want to be honest, it’s not that I don’t care about your health and well being, but I don’t need to know about your every appointment. If you have the time to take off or are otherwise getting your work done, I don’t really care why you’re away. Just tell me you have an appointment.”

    It really helped and now I’m at the point where all I say is I have an appointment and make sure everything gets done.

    1. serenity*

      The OP’s letter made it clear that this is happening in every interaction – when requesting to post things on the website, etc. It’s not just for appointments and missing work.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      Again, not a “regional” thing, just a “in your experience thing.”

      I’m also from the Midwest, I have not experienced anything like this (outside of one ToxicJob which had a lot of other issues!), and I would find this woman’s behavior very strange.

    3. Turquoise Cow*

      I think it’s an experience thing.

      At my first part time job, I called in sick. The person answering phones put me through to the manager, who basically reamed me for calling out and how we had to take our jobs seriously and be reliable and etc. He probably had no idea who I was, just that there had been some people calling out and he wanted to address it.

      At a later part time job (still a cashier, but different company), I woke up feeling sick about an hour before I had to be at work, and company policy was to call several hours beforehand. I called up and was practically in tears, I was so terrified. The manager was fine with it. “Okay, feel better,” she said.

      So definitely something that happens at one job affects your later behavior. The employee doesn’t need to have been horribly abused as a child to think that she needs to be incredibly submissive.

  7. MuseumChick*

    This may not work in your case but it worked in mine so I’m throwing out this idea. I work with someone like this. I spoke to her about how she doesn’t need to justify everything but it kept happened. After I worked with her for several months and we developed a good relationship I start VERY gently teasing/joking with her about it.

    Her: “Hey museum chick can I do (insert very reasonable thing) because of (very detailed, over long explanation with lots of repeating information)?”

    Me: “NOPE! You know your are not allowed to do (insert reasonable thing)!

    Somehow it helped. A lot. It still happens, she still give WAY overly complicated explanations for things but it is way less than what it was.

    1. Allison*

      Reminds me of how my mom will over-explain why something needs to be done, after I’ve agreed to do the thing.

      Mom: Allison, can you do the thing?
      Allison: Yep, will do!
      Mom: It’s just that the thing really needs to be done because of reasons, and I think it makes sense to do the thing today specifically because you’ll be doing other things tomorrow and you have time to do the thing today, and then tonight you will have done the thing and can enjoy the thing being done, and it’ll really be great to have the thing done because reasons . . .
      Allison: Yes, I agree with those reasons, I was thinking the same thing
      Mom: *keeps explaining*

      I can’t figure out a way to say “YES, Mom, I get it, I am 100% down with doing the thing, I am physically going to do the thing right now, you don’t have to keep telling me why it’s important!” without sounding rude or dismissive.

      1. Government Worker*

        Yeah, if anyone has tips to combat this behavior in family members, I’m all ears. My mother-in-law is great, but she is very prone to over-justifying. I suggested that you could feed the kids mac and cheese for lunch while you were babysitting, and I really don’t need multiple explanations of what other options you considered and why you decided to feed them mac and cheese for lunch!

        1. Allison*

          I wonder if some of this over-explaining, at home and at work, is especially prominent in women because we’re more likely to have our decisions second guessed all the time, like we’re all a bunch of little nitwits who aren’t capable of logical thought or sound decision-making.

          1. Student*

            When I do this to my husband, it’s because: he’s verbally agreed with me to do a thing, but he also verbally agreed with me the last 3-4 times that I asked for exactly the same thing, and yet has not done his part of the thing.

            Those prior times, I was direct and succinct when I asked for what I want or need. This time, I am purposely being emotionally manipulative, by making this conversation painful, awkward, and potentially emotional, when it really doesn’t need to be. Because he hasn’t done the thing, again, when I was reasonable and logical.

            So, if you are at the listening end of a conversation like this, ask yourself: does this person get better results from me by doing this unpleasant ramble than someone who asks reasonably and succinctly? Or do I only grease the squeaky wheel?

        2. Marillenbaum*

          With my mom, I tend to go with a smile and “Mom? We’re cool.” Occasionally with a double thumbs-up.

      2. Snark*

        I dunno. I come from a family that is pretty direct and plainspoken with each other, but unless I snapped that line out in a fit of irritation, I could totally say that to my mom. And I have said stuff like that to my mom.

        1. Bookworm*

          yeah, I don’t see an issue with the last line. I think people sometimes perceive that straightforwardness as harsh, but it’s all about tone.

      3. Sualah*

        Tone is very, very important here, but I’ve had luck with something like, with a big smile, “Haha, Mom, I can’t go do it while you’re talking to me! I’m going to go do it now, bye!”

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          My mom does that-plus- this:
          Mom: Did I tell you about (incident)?
          Me: Yep, you told me
          Mom: I was talking to so and so and can you believe…(repeats entire story anyway)


          1. Jaydee*

            In that situation, it wouldn’t matter what words you say, she is going to tell the story. It could go like this:
            Mom: “Did I tell you about (incident)?
            You: “Yes, 17 times now.”
            Or like this:
            Mom: “Did I tell you about (incident)?”
            You: “Peanut butter is a delicious and nutritious food.”
            Or like this:
            Mom: “Did I tell you about (incident)?”
            You: “Purple sofa people like to wear curlers on their toes and eat potato soup with their pet llamas.”
            The result will be the same. You will hear about the incident because you are there and she wants to tell the story about the incident.

          2. Floundering Mander*

            My aunt does this. She will repeat a story over and over, especially the “punch line” so to speak. Makes me crazy!

      4. hbc*

        If you have a generally good relationship, there’s a lot of options at your disposal that might be wrong for the workplace but be okay when said with the right tone. “Yep, that’s why I said ‘yes’ right away.” “Who are you trying to convince? Because I already said I’m on board.” “Do you have the one speech prepared regardless of what my answer is?” “Okay, I’m changing my answer from ‘yes’ to ‘only if you stop trying to convince me.'” “Oh, if that’s the case, then no.”

      5. LCL*

        I say ‘you asked me to do the thing. I agreed to do it and told you when I would do it. Why are you asking me again?’ Sometimes they have more detail to add, but usually that will get them to switch topic.

      6. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        I can’t help with the not sounding rude part. I usually say “Mom! I’m doing it. Now. As we speak.” And then I get the “ok, ok. Sorry” response from her because she knows she’s annoyed me.

      7. Nolan*

        My partner is an aggressive over explainer and it drives me up the wall sometimes. He’s also bad at policing his tone while he’s explaining things, so he usually sounds condescending while he does it. And it’s not just me, or other women he does it with, I’ve overheard work calls where he does it to male peers and direct reports. It’s very annoying and I try not to let it bother me, but on bad days it sets me/my anxiety off. On most days he just triggers my ADD’s redundant information filter and my brain just starts tuning him out and by the end of it I’m usually less clear about whatever he’s talking about than I was at the beginning. I usually respond with “yep” “uh-huh” “got it” and so on until he stops, that’s the polite response. If I’m not having it that day I’ll usually cut him off by emphasizing that I got it already. Not super polite, but it gets the job done.

  8. persimmon*

    I like Alison’s reframing of this behavior as asking for something (reassurance) rather than giving something (justification). Maybe including this idea in the conversation with the employee would help her understand why it’s a burden.

  9. Marion the Librarian*

    I experienced this same behavior but from a superior, in this case my team lead. I know she moved into the team lead role shortly before I was hired and there were a lot of transition in the department. There was a lot of stress, but I had a feeling she was also setting the tone for everyone, which didn’t matters. Her endless justification and inability to end a conversation drove me nuts but I chalked it up to a quirk of hers I just had to deal with. When she quit, I couldn’t believe how much the atmosphere changed in the office and how calmer everything was. So I don’t really have any advice to share, just that I can commiserate!

  10. McWhadden*

    I totally agree with the advice. But the fact that the manager thinks they might be too cliqueish and pointed out that everyone else is from that area may have a lot to do with it. Not that I think the OP is doing anything wrong, at all. But the employee could just feel really out of place. And that she doesn’t fit in. And when you feel like that you can go out of your way not to step on toes.

    There really isn’t a lot you can do about the fact that the rest of the staff genuinely has a base in common. It’s not the same as encouraging a clique atmosphere. But the fact is if everyone else has a natural collection the employee might feel alienated through no fault of your own.

    But this is a case where some affirmation might be helpful. “I trust you not to abuse leave time. Just give me a head’s up but I don’t need the details.” “You have a good eye and that will be a good addition to the website. I don’t have time to go into the details.”

  11. Legally_Brunette*

    I can see myself in this girl. I go on like that sometimes even know I know it’s a bad habit. For me it usually comes from feeling brushed off – like “don’t they want to know why or how or etc?” and from feeling like I lost an opportunity to show how great I am or how great my thinking is (like wanting to make double sure you know how great that new post on the website will be)

    1. Snark*

      I feel like I had a lot of this urge to exorcise when I got out of grad school, and I realized that people just need the answer, not the methods, the full background, a recap on how it went, and your conclusions with all applicable caveats and qualifications. But you’re right, it’s show-offy and egocentric.

      1. fposte*

        There’s a concept in some kinds of relationship psychology of the “good ender”–it’s about having the skills to end an interaction or a relationship and therefore being able to both finish when necessary and enter confidently into one in the first place because you know you won’t be stuck. I find that a useful concept across the board; knowing where your endpoint is and how to stick the landing is helpful in just about any interaction.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, if I was going to coach this I’d focus on identifying the finish line so you know when you’ve crossed it. What information does this person need to have? Have you provided this information? Then congratulations, you’re done.

            1. Snark*

              “Also, just as a rule of thumb, if they say ‘yes’ at any point, that means you have provided the information on the thing and you’re 100% clear to say ‘okay, thanks, have a great morning!’ and peace out.”

              1. fposte*

                I would be even more directive. “That means you’ve provided the information and I expect you to end the conversation and go back to your work.”

                I feel like this is such a strong impulse in this person that the cues for her to fight it need to be strong as well. They should still be kind, of course, but I would be super-clear about the behavior I want.

        1. Turquoise Cow*

          That’s interesting.

          My husband and I are both horrible and ending an intereaction (socially, anyway). We both will tend to keep going with a dinner or get-together or whatever with others long after we probably should. I’ve become more aware of his inability to do this as we’ve spent more time together, and I’m trying to get better at saying something like “WELL, it’s been nice hanging out but I’ve got to get up tomorrow, so BYe!” and then dragging him out the door, because we otherwise will be chatting with my in laws until past midnight when it’s 30 minutes to drive home and I have to get up at 7 for work.

          I also have, in the past, been hesitant to enter into conversations, or any other kind of interaction unless there was a clear method of ending. Like, we’re going to have lunch and then I/they have to leave at x time to go back to work, or for another appointment, because otherwise we’ll be there all day. It seems like I’m not the only one lacking the skill to end things, because even when I’m saying things like “well, it’s been nice seeing you,” and expecting the other person to take the hint, they’re bringing up new topics and going on as though we haven’t already been sitting there for x hours.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          It is a skill I really value, especially when I started consciously working on it–I realized that so much of my discomfort in social situations was from not knowing how to end a conversation myself, and feeling like that meant I was stuck at the mercy of my interlocutor. So finding a moment for the, “Excellent! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to freshen my drink/circulate/get some fresh air” and just walking away was liberating.

      2. Lindsay*

        Communicating efficiently is good, of course. But wanting to make sure your abilities and successes are noticed (by your boss! the person who makes promotion/raise decisions!) is not show-offy or egocentric.

        1. Snark*

          If you’re actively worrying about opportunities to show how great your thinking is….eh, yeah, you’re getting into that territory. Obviously you want your strengths and successes to be noted and appreciated, but if you’re talking at someone after they tell you yes because you feel the need to impress them with your thinking, that strikes me as a self-serving impulse.

          And I say that as someone who falls into that trap and has to actively try not to fatten up his ego too much, so no judgment, just calling it what it is.

        2. nosy nelly*

          It’s odd to me that many commenters are seeing this alternatively as insecure (with negative connotations) and egocentric (with negative connotations).

          It could also just be a behavior that served the person well in the past, perhaps with a forgetful boss or working for someone who would ask a lot of questions or request a lot of justification.

          Not everything a person does that is annoying in one workplace is inherently wrong, it’s just ill-suited to that particular set of circumstances and colleagues.

          1. Someone else*

            I think the difference here is if it were forgetful boss, they don’t need the extra info in the moment after the yes. They might need it later after forgetting. If you’re literally standing in front of someone who said yes 10 seconds ago, they either don’t need the extra info, they had enough to decide, or if that extra info genuinely might change their mind, you should’ve led with that so the downside were up front. If you’re giving them more reasons to say yes, when they already did, whether it’s coming from show or insecurities is irrelevant. It’s still a time waste.

    2. Beatrice*

      I have been bad at this, too. I think I’m much better now, but one area where I still struggle is when I expected to get a lot of resistance to my proposal, and I get an immediate agreement instead. I want to do a Leslie Knope “Okay, but I worked really hard on my argument, so can you hear me out anyway?” I hate coming up with a killer point and not being able to make it!

      1. YuliaC*

        I recognize myself in this. When I prepared a lot of arguments and have this full dialog run-through all ready in my head, and then the person unexpectedly agrees right away, sometimes it’s hard to stop myself from sounding at least some of those prepared lines. Kindly making fun of me when I do that works best in getting me to stop – something like “Hey, i didn’t realize I needed to hear more arguments for this, have you prepared a powerpoint as well?” (said in a gentle wink-wink tone).

    3. Snarky*

      I have done the same. In addition to using Alison’s script, the OP might do some self-evaluation as a manager to make sure that this employee has opportunities for both getting and giving ample feedback on the job. If you have a group that have worked together closely for some time, you can start using shorthand in your communications and you can sometimes skirt more in-depth discussions because everyone is already on the same page. As a new person, it may be that she’s finding it hard to get a chance to voice her perspectives and it’s coming out in awkward ways. It may not be this at all, but I would certainly evaluate the possibility.

    4. Aardvark*

      I used to do that too (and probably still do sometimes!). What helped me was realizing that my boss trusted my judgment enough to let me do or recommend X without any input from him, which was him giving me implicit–and arguably more meaningful–positive performance feedback.

    5. kb*

      I totally get this, especially when a task took hours or days of hard work and careful thought. Then you present the final outcome and your boss is just like, “okay, cool.” And generally when you spend a lot of time getting into the nitty gritty of something, you start to become very interested in the minutiae, but nobody else is. So to you, you are saying something fascinating, but generally the listener is just wondering why you are telling them the history of serifs on typeface, just give them the new logo and be done.

  12. JD*

    My boss is like this, and regardless of what I say it just doesn’t change. I think this, to some extent, is just a personality trait. The amount of times I have wanted to use him as a speed bump when he does this I cannot even count.

    “Can you go ahead and print that P&L?”
    “Sure one moment.”
    “Ok cause I need it for the accountant”.
    “See i need it for the accountant because…….”
    “Me, ok got it here you go”.
    “So I am meeting with the accountant today to discuss….”

    About 10 minutes in I want to use a fork to remove my eyeballs. Then he says I am being snippy for saying ok repeatedly. No idea what he wants me to say other than ok. By the time he is done the P&L is in his hand and I am already in my car on my way home for the day when this exchange began at 8a.m. (ok exaggeration but you get the point).

      1. Snark*

        I think it’s still possible to push back, though. “Hey, boss, I really don’t need the back story, but here you go.”

        1. JD*

          Oh I have tried. He does it with everything, like telling a story.

          “When I was in college, I think it was 1979, or 1978? It was a Tuesday, or maybe a Wednesday, no it was a Tuesday. It was raining out. I dated this girl then she was a flight attendant. Bla bla bla bla… that’s how I found out that the word is spelled Tuesday and not Teusday”. Seriously. I said I wouldn’t go to a meeting with him today. I am a contractor so I have that option, because I knew it would end up in just madness as he is meeting with our accountant and goes even more nuts with it when he doesn’t know something and is asking questions.

          1. Snark*

            I have nothing more for you besides sympathy. I’d have gone completely psychotic by now. IT STOPS THE STORY OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN

            1. JD*

              Haha. This ss cracking me up. Also because I said something to that effect to him before and he didn’t know what I was talking about. I mean who hasn’t seen Silence of the Lambs!!

              1. Snark*

                I made a “ate his liver with a nice Chianti and some fava beans” joke recently and it just fell flat on its face. Sad trombone.

                1. JD*

                  Every time I am moving something I resort to PIVOT. If you don’t get it lets just not be friends anymore. PIVOT! PIVOT!!!

        2. Snark*

          And if not that, then physically departing the conversation IS an option. “OK, I think we’ve covered everything you need from me!” *turn back to other work, leave for bathroom, do a lap around the cubicles*

          1. JD*

            And this is why I went to consulting part time, mostly from home. I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I once smashed my head onto my desk, “jokingly” although lets be honest, seriously, and had a bump for a week. That sums up the level of frustration. haha

            He is a really great guy so I give him the benefit of the doubt as much as I can but it for sure wasn’t something I could handle long term.

            1. LKW*

              When people get that repetitive, I just repeat what they say (or change a detail so they laugh and stop talking.

              Scenario 1:
              Boss: I need the P&L
              You: OK
              Boss: Because I have a meeting with the accountants.
              You: OK
              Boss: You see, I’m meeting with the accountants.
              You: What I’m hearing is that you need the P&L because you’re meeting with the accountants.

              Scenario 2:
              Boss: I need the P&L
              You: OK
              Boss: Because I have a meeting with the accountants.
              You: OK
              Boss: You see, I’m meeting with the accountants.
              You: So you need the P&L because you’re meeting with a local street art team who wants to spray paint your portrait, holding the P&L report across the back wall of the building. Awesome!

            1. Starbuck*

              I had a boss like this once. He was a rambler and after my first couple days I got some pointed “so…. how’s it going with Rambler?” questions from coworkers, and after I described how lost I was as to how to get him to stop talking, they recommended simply walking away and reassured me that he wouldn’t be offended. I was stunned, had never met anyone like that before.

    1. Starbuck*

      Dear lord, I had a boss like this once. Even a simple yes/no question could turn into a 20 minute digression without warning. He also had a habit of READING EMAILS ALOUD. Sharing an office with him was a truly unique learning experience. I was an intern brand new to the work world, and terrified of offending him or seeming like I didn’t know my place but I just could not handle the level of chatter. Our desks faced away from each other; having “conversations” with our backs turned was a common occurrence (really I would turn away and start typing to try and end a conversation but he just kept going!!). I think I’m generally a pretty smooth and graceful social interaction ender (my “well it’s been great but…” lines have at least a 90% success rate on the first attempt) but he just Would. Not. Get. It. It devolved to me having to get up and leave the office because I “forgot” something, or a visitor came in. Fortunately he was also impossible to offend and would occasionally be apologetic about rambling, so I never got really angry about it… but as someone who is extremely sensitive to when people are bored of me or want to leave, it was kind of fascinating.

      1. JD*

        Oh good god he cannot read a text, email or sign on the road quietly. Lord help me! One time I am fairly sure I said “you know sane people read to themselves quietly.”

      2. Tealeaves*

        We had an email reader once. She read all her emails aloud and made comments about it to nobody in particular. Sometimes she would randomly ask the people who sat nearby if they agreed with her comments. It was exhausting to listen to. Someone gently tried to tell her to please stop doing that but she said she needed to do that to focus. I think she just needed attention.

        1. only acting normal*

          I think they are “verbal processors” – they really don’t absorb stuff until they hear it aloud.
          I’m a non-verbal processor myself – if it goes in my ear it will not stick in my brain. But then I have auditory processing issues… so.
          I work with a couple of extreme “verbals”, and it can be PAINFUL – effectively I cannot work while they are working “with” me (feels more like “at” me). I’ve even found they can get resentful if asked to write things down.

    2. JD*

      Total side note but some spider just bit me the heck out my leg and foot about an hour ago under my desk and a Benadryl and hydrocortizone and it WILL NOT STOP. Soooo not feeling a walk in trip. Gosh darnit.

  13. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    Hi, your employee is me (er, not literally). I had to work very hard to change these behaviours. (And while I was working on them, I had a physical illness that was making life even more difficult, so it took some time to get to the place I wanted to be.)

    There could be any number of reason why she does these things, but I’m willing to bet it’s due to being in an environment where there was constant criticism, and a constant need to justify yourself because people would criticise or mocked if you didn’t.

    Whatever the reason, be firm and kind about your feedback. I’d be surprised if she didn’t already know this and is working on it. You can add something like that you know everyone’s got something they’re working on and this isn’t a comment on who she is a person.

    And yes, this is exhausting for other people to deal with! That was something I could see at the time, but it takes practice to change a habit, and when people would show irritation, it made me more flustered. And let her know when you see a change. Just a quick ‘your hard work has been noticed, good job’ and a smile. It’ll help so much.

    Oh, and when you tell her, be prepared for the possibility of oversharing. She might not, but if she has a need to justify herself, she might get into some backstory. If that happens, listen for a little while and show empathy. I’m definitely *not* saying being a therapist and listen for half an hour! But it made a huge difference to me to have someone say that while they couldn’t help as such, they did sympathise and supported my efforts to change.

    In the end, you are her manager and you need her to do a job. Be kind and firm, and you’ll see a change. (And as someone who struggled with this, thanks for asking for advice on how to tackle this issue.) Good luck to you both!

    1. Snark*

      “She might not, but if she has a need to justify herself, she might get into some backstory. If that happens, listen for a little while and show empathy.”

      Ooh. Mmm. Gonna push back on this, at least a little. If it’s “My last boss called me to the mat so many times I felt like I had to get out in front of any possible objection, and I’m still working on not doing that anymore, sorry!” that’s fine, but if the backstory is longer than that….nope. That’s the problem.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, totally agreeing. There can absolutely be sympathetic reasons for the “why” of this behavior, but they still mean it has to stop and it’s not reasonable to expect boss and co-workers to give extra time until it does.

      2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Well, ‘little while’ depends on what the story is. Rushing someone who’s trying to tell you something can make it a lot worse. I don’t have a length of time to recommend because it depends on what’s going to be said (and that’s even if anything is said at all).

        1. fposte*

          It shouldn’t be a story in the first place, though; that’s the point.

          I understand the impulse of people to sympathize with somebody who seems to be stressed and who may have had bad experiences, but people seem to want the workplace to be therapeutic in a way that really isn’t appropriate. Somebody rambling when I need her to go back to her work is *already* making it worse, because “worse” applies to the whole business and not just to her. I’m not suggesting yelling “Get on with it!”, but interventions to get information quicker may be necessary even if that makes her more uncomfortable.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          But if the whole problem is that she is over-justifying everything, then letting her justify her over-justification is definitely not the solution.

  14. anna green*

    Eeek, I can definitely be like this something (and I am from the Northeast). Normally I find myself doing this when I am looking to connect more and am just subconsciously prolonging the conversation in hopes that it will lead to a stronger connection and more information. So, maybe also make sure that you are checking in with her enough and that she feels acknowledged at work (to a reasonable extent).

    1. Diane Nguyen*

      The connection thing speaks to me. When I do this, I’m often just trying to be collegial and share what I’m up to. I’m the only person in my office who does what I do, so I’m probably just trying to stave off isolation. Someone who’s relocated for a new job may be (in part, at least) just trying to make conversation and get comfortable talking to people.

    2. Dolphins Need Their Feathers Back*

      I was going to suggest the same thing. It’s possible the rambling new person is also trying to get to know her coworkers (and feeling isolated or lonely as the new person). She might be extending conversations trying to get connection. Not that the tips from Alison should be any differently handled even if that is the case because annoying her coworkers will only cause them to avoid conversations even more with her.

  15. Bibliovore*

    This does sound like behavior from a previous position and attendant anxiety. Alison’s advice and script is perfect. I had this behavior and it effected every interaction personal and work. The cognitive behavior that broke it was from the Mr. Bibliovore, who was in Sales.
    Stop selling when you get a “yes”
    He would say, you can stop talking, you got your “yes” I don’t need to know anymore.

    1. Sparkly Librarian*

      I got that very useful advice when I was in college and selling housewares over summer vacation — it’s precisely what popped into my head when reading this letter. My neighbor (who might have been in sales, but was a businessperson and had entirely too much money imo) agreed to buy my largest, most expensive set before I was halfway done with my pitch. I had been DRILLED that I had to always say the next part (it was a cost comparison for how many more inexpensive shoddy items the customer would otherwise buy in their life if they did not invest in a quality one of mine) no matter what, so I kept going… and my neighbor stopped me with “Once they’ve said yes to the sale, STOP SELLING.”

    1. fposte*

      Can you explain more? It seems a reasonably sympathetic reaction to an employee engaging in behavior she’s been already told not to.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        To me, it’s not that it’s infantizing… It is just a weird sounding/confusingly worded statement – like a less clear version of “We agreed not to do this!”

        And, assuming she’s doing it because she forgot she shouldn’t, I prefer the ones the scripts that give her a reference for what “this” is (what we talked about last week! The over-explaining thing!).

    2. Turquoise Cow*

      Yeah I agree. It sounds like there is a mutual problem there “we”, but it’s not. It reminds me of the royal “we”, but in reverse.

      It also happens to be a pet peeve of mine when someone says “we” and really means “I” or “you.” My old boss would say things like “we need to work on x” when he was not going to do any of the actual work; it was confusing. My brother will make opinion statements, like “we like this,” when he’s only referring to himself.

      And it is a thing you’d say to a little kid, “We’re going to get our shoes on now,” or “We’re going to stop having a tantrum now, remember, we agreed?”

      I admit I might be overly sensitive about it, though. Sorry if it comes across as nitpicky.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        My old boss would say things like “we need to work on x” when he was not going to do any of the actual work;

        I succeeded in breaking my current boss of that by asking just what part he was going to do. It took a few times, but now when he uses that ‘we’, I know he’s going to do some of it.

  16. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    My daughter has a friend who does this. It is exhausting. As she spends a lot of time with our family my husband and I have started to interrupt her explanations with “I don’t need the reasons. Just yes or no.” or “I’ve already given you my answer so there’s no reason to explain further.” We say it firm but kind. The first few times she was visibly startled and would say “yeah, but (and her reasons)” and we would just stop her again by repeating ourselves. In her case, she’s a nervous kid by nature as well as the youngest and most spoiled at home. I think in her case she feels she needs to keep explaining and because she’s so doted on at home nobody has ever stopped her. I haven’t actually told her “I don’t care” but my daughter has done it for me: “Sansa, they already said I could sleep over. They don’t care why you want me there.”

    LW, I feel for you. It is a truly exhausting habit she has.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      Maybe the girl is talking because she feels like no one ever actually listens. Doting doesn’t always equate to valuing their contribution.

      1. Turquoise Cow*

        That’s basically part of why I’ve done it in the past. People usually didn’t listen, so now that you’re actually listening, I’m just going to continue talking!

      2. Not So NewReader*

        She doesn’t sound spoiled, she sounds like she is ignored. I know several youngest kids who say that they were pretty much ignored when they were growing up.

  17. TotesMaGoats*

    This sounds so much like some colleagues I’ve had who came from a really toxic place. Not that the behavior shouldn’t be corrected but if you frame it more as she’s doing this as a learned, protective behavior than a trying to annoy the crap out of you behavior it might help in dealing with it.

    Alternatively, she just might like the sound of her own voice. It’s worth some digging to see what might be at the root.

    1. MissDissplaced*

      I was very much like this after a horrible job and a horrible boss. And especially also because it was creative work where it’s so subjective. Horrible boss made his attacks on your work very personal and you had to defend or die.

  18. Amber Rose*

    I was like that once upon a time. Part of it for me was straight up guilt over missing time, particularly early on while I was still training. I think it’s pretty normal, even in a welcoming and friendly company, for the new person to feel like they have to prove themselves and be perfect and for them to feel guilt or anxiety over not meeting that (unnecessary) standard.

    I did get over it, but now that I’m on the other side it’s really noticeable how exhausting that behavior is for both sides.

  19. Viktoria*

    I have to do something similar with a close relative. She’ll say, “do you want to get pizza for dinner?” And I’ll say, “sure, sounds great!” and she goes on and on… “it’s just that, I don’t have anything else in the works, and we haven’t had pizza in a while, and I’m really in the mood for X Pizza, and blah blah blah…” I try not to be short tempered about it, but my go-to phrase is “hey, you don’t have to convince me! I love pizza!” said in a jokey/happy way. I like Alison’s suggestions for a more professional context. As her manager you have standing to address the broader picture but you’ll probably need to cut her off in the moment a fair amount until she (hopefully) gets the hang of it.

  20. NotAnotherManager!*

    I have told my elementary school-aged daughter repeatedly to “take ‘yes’ for an answer!” because she will continue to argue WELL AFTER one of her parents has told her she could do something.

  21. stitchinthyme*

    I still occasionally have to catch myself to keep from being like this. I hope I was never as bad as the LW’s employee, but more than once I’ve had to stop myself from rambling with the admonishment (to myself), “They really don’t need your life story. Just get to the point and move on.” I’m less likely to have to do this at work than in other situations, such as with customer service people. My own experience working in retail way back in high school and college always comes back to me when I’m dealing with that sort of thing: I remember being bored and impatient when someone would give me a long, rambling story about why they needed to return something — I’d be thinking, “Okay, fine, here’s your money back; I really don’t care why you’re returning this item, just please go away!”

  22. Blue Eagle*

    Reminds me of a time when I did this with a boss (further justification after a “yes) and he kindly cut off any further conversation with a four word phrase – “you sunk your putt”.
    It was enough for me to cut off future justification. Just reminiscing about this make me remember that he was a great boss!

  23. Sleepy*

    It could be stemming from a previous workplace. I worked in a pretty toxic environment and got chewed out/there was drama for a lot unless I gave plenty of backstory to cover my butt, and needed to appear super proactive in making work my priority. Not saying that this is common and doesn’t need correcting, but it may be a sign of high stress/anxiety from a previous workplace and almost like job security to this employee in that if they don’t talk through their plans with you then there could gen repercussions later.

  24. hurricanem*

    You may be experiencing regional differences in communication. I am from the Midwest, and what you are describing sounds a lot like (albeit an extreme example of) how many people from this area communicate. You may want to suggest that your office culture (and indeed, geographic culture) utilizes and values more direct communication.

  25. Lindsay*

    I want to join the chorus of folks here saying that the OP probably came from a very toxic boss situation (or possibly, toxic family situation). The regional how-direct-is-too-direct issue is probably relevant too, but to me this reads like someone who has definitely had a boss or parent who frequently gave fake Yeses – as in, Yes for this instant, but when as soon as there is a consequence or wrinkle or complexity that I didn’t foresee, it will be your fault.

  26. TJuerg*

    When I moved from OldJob to CurrentJob, I suffered from this and more. OldJob was so toxic; inconsistent managing, problem employees that created drama, being thrown under the bus by my management team, etc. You DEFINITELY overcompensate at NewJob. It took me awhile and the patience of my new manager (bless her, she is amazing) to get me to a better place. Be firm but patient and kind (the thing about tone that Alison mentioned is brilliant). It took me some time to get more confidant and secure in myself and my role – I cannot stress enough the “patient and kind” part. Don’t over extend yourself with it but know that it is appreciated.

  27. Business Cat*

    Oof, this is me. It absolutely is a holdover from previous toxic work environments and a delightful case of generalized anxiety. Nervous chatter. It’s part validation-seeking, part genuinely trying to make sure that I’m understood. It takes time and a great deal of effort to improve, at least in my case. I hope your employee can figure out what works for her and can grow in confidence.

  28. CatCat*

    I used to behave very similar to this (not exactly the same, rather than justifying everything I did, I constantly downplayed any compliments I received). A counselor picked up on it and I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. She coached me to say, “Thank you!” Hard stop. It was a difficult behavior to correct, but once I was aware of it and knew what to stay instead, I learned to stopped doing it.

    I wonder if a similar approach would work here. You mention that she doesn’t know how to end a conversation. I am just concerned saying, “I’d like you to work on accepting ‘yes’ and moving on. Can you work on that?” might not be really effective if she isn’t sure how to close out the conversation. So what about stating what it is you’re expecting to hear? Something like: “I’d like you to work on accepting ‘yes’ and moving on. After I’ve said ‘yes,’ just say, ‘great, thanks!’ and end the conversation there. No need to justify yourself further. Can you work on that?”

  29. Dance fever*

    I manage someone with this tendency, “Persephone.”. She’s self-disclosed she’s been in therapy for anxiety, and I do my best to coach her to make decisions without a million justifications (usually sent via email to all team members.) The challenge is that sometimes her decisions are challenged. For example, let’s say we’re all out of yellow teapots and Persephone tells us she’s decided we should use pink teapots until the next shipment of yellow ones arrive. We all nod, okay, pink should work, but then in reality the pink teapots are too small, so “Horace” will say he’s found the blue ones are bigger so can we use the blue teapots for now and everyone agrees that’s fine. There are no accusations that Persephone made a bad decision or anything, but Persephone will then be in my office, telling me this is why she wants everyone to give input before she makes a decision. Any slight conflict causes her to spiral. It can be exhausting. (I can’t imagine it’s fun for her, either.)

      1. Dance fever*

        But that’s where the justification train starts. She’ll send out an email saying, “We’re out of yellow teapots, should we do pink or green teapots” and then go into stultifying detail about the pros and cons of each. Meanwhile, which teapot we use is really tangential to our work, so no one really cares, and nobody replies, and then she’ll send emails saying she’s not getting replies, and then I’ll have to say, “Let’s put this on the agenda for the next meeting” and she’ll talk until I cut her off. Everyone will say, Persephone, you know more than us, which one do you think? And she’ll pick pink. Then when it doesn’t work- which no one blames Perspehone for, because we didn’t realize our tea bags were 2 cm bigger than the teapot- we need to make a slight adjustment to her decision, and commence meltdown.

  30. Shoe*

    I feel like this is something I do :/. I’m the worst at ending conversations! And I always overexplain.

    It sounds to me like she’s just a bit socially awkward (uh, like me). She probably just needs to be clued in.

    I think the best way to deal with it is to just call it out in the moment. I’d put my hand up to interrupt her, and say in a nice tone, “No need to explain this further. I got it.” Since this is a habit, it might take a few times for her to break it.

  31. SaraHasWhimsy*

    To me, this sounds like someone who is new to being in a non-abusive situation. It could have been a former employer or partner but I’d bet that this employee was either quite recently in an abusive relationship or was in one for a long time. If it was me, I wouldn’t draw a line in the sand over with her. I would tell her it’s noticeable and ask if she knows where it comes from. Tell her it’s not something she needs to do in that work environment.

    1. Snark*

      Or maybe it’s just a personality quirk. Like I said above, it’s not really productive to pathologize everything. I get the sympathetic impulse, but it’s not productive. Personally, I think it does kind of a bank-shot disservice to those who do suffer from anxiety or trauma.

      Also, yes, this is something to draw a line in the sand over, regardless of whether it’s rooted in trauma or anxiety or abuse or whatever. Reassurance-seeking and endless justification force people do to a lot of emotional labor on your behalf, and it’s not productive enough to be worth it, so people are going to start avoiding her or snapping at her. Team morale and cohesiveness sort of demands that this be nipped in the bud, quickly. The boss doesn’t need to know where it came from, and I think the request to end it needs to be a lot more directive and clear than “you don’t need to do this.”

  32. Rusty Shackelford*

    (I can’t imagine it’s fun for her, either.)

    No, trust me, it’s not.

    – the person who can’t stand making decisions, because they might be wrong

  33. BigSigh*

    There are two men in my office who are like this. It drives everyone nuts and honestly makes it difficult to want to talk to them ever about anything.

    If it makes a different, the office is based in the northeast. The men are from the area, but I’m a midwest transplant.

  34. NicoleK*

    I have a coworker who does things similar to OP’s new hire. With my coworker, it’s an anxiety issue. She needs constant reassurance from the people around her, needs permission from our boss on mundane things, sometimes ask the same questions multiple times, needs approval from everyone, and sometimes will interject herself into a situation because of her anxiety.

    I have no idea how to handle her sometimes.

  35. Tech Writer*

    My work consists of conveying maximum meaning in minimum space. The longer I do it, the less patience I have for this type of behavior. It helps me to mentally proofread the person’s speech. While she blathers about the meaning of life, my brain is drawing thick red lines through her invisible words.

  36. Julia*

    “Of course, occasionally there really might be additional context that’s needed and in that case you should be speak up…”
    She may not know when additional context is needed. The OP may have to ask for it.

  37. sara*

    Any thoughts on how to handle a person who does this kind of thing who’s NOT your employee?

    Reading this, I was reminded of a call I had last year. A frequent visitor at the museum I worked at noticed an error on our website, and because she knew I was involved called to tell me about it. I thanked her for alerting me, said I’d get it fixed right away, and then… she repeated the whole conversation with more and more justifications for calling, telling me how awful it was that we hadn’t caught the mistake sooner, how inconvenienced people would surely be, etc.

    I apologized, promised to fix it again, promised to be more careful in the future, and tried to be polite and firmly end the conversation, but every time I did she’d start back in again. After about four go-rounds I snapped at her, “I don’t know what you want! What else do you want me to do here?” and she hung up on me, then submitted a comment card about me the next time she visited.

    Obviously I shouldn’t have snapped at her, but I’m at a loss to think of what I could have done to calm her down. (If anything?)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “I’ve got a call coming in that I have to take, so I need to get off the line but I’ll get this fixed right away. Thank you! Take care!” (hang up)

      1. Epica*

        I think she still would have ended up with the negative comment card even in this situation (or the woman would have called back to keep going). There are people who just want to feel powerful and this is how they achieve it. You can only hope you have an understanding boss who will overlook that comment card or complaint. After many years in retail, I’ve learned how to manage about 97% of customers, but there is still that 3% that are like this woman.

    2. Kate*

      There are two kinds of people: one who like to complain and the other, who are looking at the solution. I guess she was the former and you are the latter. There will always be those kind of people :/

    3. Snark*

      “Obviously I shouldn’t have snapped at her, but I’m at a loss to think of what I could have done to calm her down.”

      There was very little you could have done. There are some people who just want to grind an axe, and they will. Not. Let. It. Go. until they get the confrontation they’re craving.

    4. Argh!*

      I had a moment like that in a meeting. Apparently the guy I snapped at was feeling that I’d dissed his credentials when I asked questions. None of his answers truly answered the question and then out of nowhere he launched into a brag about how knowledgeable he is about the topic. In exasperation I said “I just want you to tell me what to do.” (Which he did…. and then he complained to my boss that I’m “difficult”)

    5. Jennifer Thneed*

      (whoops, wrote this elsewhere when I meant it here. Now I’ve edited it, too!)

      I think you were supposed to have a conversation with her about how awful it was, and how fortunate for you that she saw it. And then some more meandering. And that’s why she kept repeating the whole thing. So you’d finally get with the program.

      I also think she wasn’t getting the fact that you’re at work and can’t settle in for a long chat. After the 2nd iteration, I’d say something about needing to get back to work now, thanks, goodbye. (And hang up! Even if she’s talking!)

  38. Kate*

    She might’ve had a bad manager, a micromanaging supervisor or something in the past and it’s hard to leave this behind. Especially since it usually impacts your confidence in your abilities. So yeah, firmly but kindly end the conversation whenever this happens and be patient with her until she gets it! She needs to know and feel that things are different here, it’s OK to let go of the bad experience of the past.
    Or I might be completely off, but this is one version, nonetheless.

  39. NewBoss5000*

    Oh my gosh was this an appropriate one for me to read today. I just had a conversation with one of my employees about this exact thing. I too didn’t really come right out and say “stop justifying everything.” Mainly that was because she started crying! I told her that she’s shown nothing but good judgment since I started working with her, and that I trust her decisions, and so she should feel free to make those decisions without checking with me. I’m pretty sure this trait of hers is related to previously being supervised by one of our most difficult employees (who will get mad if someone makes a decision without asking her first, whether or not she’s that person’s supervisor or even has anything to do with the decision). Once she started tearing up I just reiterated that I was telling her this because I think she’s doing a great job, and I have full confidence in her and want her to have that same confidence. I’ll give her some time and then try again if needed.

  40. LadyKelvin*

    I have this same problem sometimes, and its mostly just because I’m still getting used to making the transition from student to expert. In my PhD you had to justify everything because you were the student and needed to show that you could back up your conclusions. Now that I’m and “expert” it is weird that people just take my conclusions about things without the need for justifications. I think I’m getting better at it and I definitely notice when I do it (at least, most of the time I think) but it is an ongoing adjustment. I’ve only been working for 7 months so hopefully I’ll get better at it, but here is what has helped me adjust. If I say something I wait for follow-up questions and try to ignore my urge to word-vomit. If there aren’t any questions I shut up and if there are, then I can usually answer them. And I shut up by physically shutting my mouth and shaking my head in response, so I’m doing something but not justifying. Its not perfect, but it works.

  41. This Daydreamer*

    Wow. It’s scary how many of us have work PTSD. I came here to say it was probably a holdover from an old job, because I see some of this in myself, but there are so many people saying that exact thing. We all are cringing in anticipation of another verbal attack.

    OP, I doubt very much that this has anything to do with your office being too cliqueish or anything like that. Your employee has to learn how to deal with a nontoxic workplace. Congratulations on running that nontoxic workplace!

  42. TootsNYC*

    I think there’s great power in giving people the script, if they seem to lack it.
    And as her manager, you’re in a position in which you can do that in a very direct way.

  43. Argh!*

    As a Nor-easterner living in the Midwest, my feeling is that this is definitely cultural. This person needs to be told that it’s not considered polite to take up people’s time with deferential fussing about. She will be shocked but I think she needs to hear it in blunt terms. “This isn’t the midwest. We get to the point here and once something has been settled we put a period on the end of the sentence. You will find people getting “short” with you if you keep doing this.”

    Since I’m in the midwest, I have decided to put up with my coworkers who do this but they do test my limit. One person asked for my cooperation on something, I said “yes” immediately, and then she kept going on and on telling me how I didn’t have to and we could do it at a different time and blah blah blah giving me all kinds of outs. I just finally said “I said yes and I meant that. Is there anything else we need to discuss?”

    I get the feeling that they expect me to say more but I have no idea what I’m supposed to say. How many ways can a person say “yes”?

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      My in-laws are from the midwest, and this is familiar behavior to me. There is a whole indirectness thing in the Midwest that I can’t get the hang of. But for sure, “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes”, and you can be considered a real jerk for holding someone to an agreement that they made under certain circumstances. I don’t get all the nuances (and frankly the whole thing drives me crazy), but things like, if you say you’ll be late because of a doctor’s appointment, and the response you get is like “oh, that’s going to leave us a bit short-handed. But you have to take care of your health!”, you should know it wasn’t a real yes.

      I have not figured out how to actually agree to things or say nice things to people. I mean, if “it’s nice to see you again!” is code for “I hate you! Go die in a fire!”, then how do you ACTUALLY indicate it’s nice to see someone again?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My friend went to a shrink. She was upset because her husband was not keeping up with a promise he had made before they got married. The shrink said, ” What. You did not actually expect him to do what he said he would do, did you? Men will say anything to get a woman to marry them.”

        So many problems here. But the one I am targeting is that even this psychiatrist felt that it was okay for people NOT to mean what they say and we should expect people not to mean what they say.

        Yeah, she ditched Dr. Hot Mess.

      1. Narise*

        I moved to the Midwest and found they don’t recognize sarcasm or jokes all the time. It took me weeks to realize they didn’t know I was joking when talking about some work things in a very laid back setting. I subscribe to Dilbert so my humor is very targeted. After five years they have gotten used to me but sometimes I still add ‘just kidding.’

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      I think you were supposed to have a conversation with her about how awful it was, and how fortunate for you that she saw it. And then some more meandering.

      I also think she wasn’t getting the fact that you’re at work and can’t settle in for a long chat. After the 2nd iteration, I’d say something about needing to get back to work now, thanks, goodbye.

  44. Audiophile*

    I have had many jobs where I had to explain any deviation from my normal schedule. I have often felt, as I moved into more professional jobs that I needed to continue to justify not only schedules, but also changing simple every day processes. It can definitely be a very difficult habit to break.

  45. Student*

    I think how you respond to this may vary depending on the motivation. AAM could be right that she’s insecure and thus seeking validation. However, this could also be a couple other things, like boss-attention-seeking (think brown-nosing; wants to show you how smart she is), or simple over-enthusiasm for her own idea.

    If this is a form of boss-attention-seeking, the only way to solve it is to redirect her to better ways to seek your attention; i.e., giver her insight on what will and will not earn potential promotion/raise/etc. brownie points. It’s good to give your team direction on this kind of thing anyway, so you should be able to have an organic conversation about it. Just find a way to be blunt that what she’s doing isn’t working well – something along the lines of “I get that you’re smart; everyone here is smart. Don’t feel like you need to show off how much thought you’ve put into every idea. Save it for big ideas. Generally, I need to see X instead.”

    If this is over-enthusiasm for her own ideas, then you just need to redirect her energy and explain to her what your role is better. “I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic about this, but I need you to better understand my role in this process. I’m not spending a week knee-deep in this issue, like you are. I have a bunch of other priorities that I weigh against your stuff, like A and B. I don’t need or benefit from this much detail in your explanations. To be honest, some of it occasionally goes over my head, or I don’t retain it for very long. I need X, Y to make a decision, but I’ll ask you specifically if I need Z+ level of detail. If you go over it now, it’s too much info, and I need to get back to my other tasks. If you want to keep personal notes about Z+ details, that’s better to put in a report instead. “

  46. designbot*

    An old professor of mine had a beautiful phrase to deal with this sort of thing, “Know when to declare victory and move on.” Over time it got shortened to just “Declare victory” and would help us speed through critiques by getting to the heart of the conversation more quickly and leaving aside the stuff that was already well settled.

  47. Narise*

    I have an employee who does this even after three years working with me. She leaves ten minute phone messages to say she’s going to be 10 minutes late. On top of justifying and over sharing she’s also very sensitive and gets her feelings hurt a lot. I realize this is part of her personality. I manage her justifying by either letting her explain/ask her question and not letting her go off on tangents (it’s amazing the different topics she tries to combine) or by letting her know I have a meeting in x minutes and forcing her to hit the high points. She has learned to focus in these conversations and stay on topic but I think it’s because she knows I listen to her at other times. I would address this differently if she wasn’t so sensitive and if she wasn’t so good at her job. She needs more attention and verbal interaction than other employees but is extremely accurate in her job so it’s worth the trade off for me.

  48. Kai Jones*

    This sounds like a collision between “ask” culture (direct) and “guess” culture (context-based, perceived as more polite, designed to allow people to say “no” without having to say no/reject the other person).

  49. Is it Friday Yet?*

    I haven’t read through all of the comments, but I don’t find this behavior to be TOO abnormal for someone in a new role with a new manager. I’d imagine this would wear off once she gets the hang of things.

  50. mf*

    Allison’s script is great. If your employee continues to explain herself, try calling this behavior out in a kind way when you’re in the moment:

    Her: “I’d like to X.”
    You: “Great! Go for it.”
    Her: “I just want to make sure because x, y, z reasons…”
    You: “Let me stop you for a second. You don’t have to explain–I think it’s a good idea and I trust your judgment. Why don’t you give it a shot and see what happens? If the results aren’t what we hoped for, we’ll talk about it and figure out a better approach for next time.”

    In other words, it might help if you communicate that you trust her and that you won’t punish her for taking a risk or making an honest mistake.

  51. Not So NewReader*

    You’ve gotten some great scripts, OP.

    I think that you may have to have the big conversation and say that you will be pointing out examples every so often because if she does not get a handle on this it will impact her career/work life. Explain to her that what she thinks is polite and clarifying, others find rude and off-putting.

    You’ll probably have to be firm and consistent but you can still be kind. Sometimes stuff like this can be deeply rooted and will not stop in one week or even one month. BTDT. You can also point out things such as, “I have just told you yes. Do you have anything new to add to the subject, is there something that you think I should know?” Redirects are very good for helping the person to understand that they are being redundant.

  52. GovSysadmin*

    I’m a Midwesterner, and I know I’ve experienced and been the source of this kind of apologetic overexplaining at times. I did have an idea that might make it clear that she should stop, while maintaining a sort of Midwestern politeness, and that might be to have a phrase you can say that makes it understood that you are done. It’d probably require one more awkward conversation, but having a phrase that you wouldn’t normally say, like “understood and acknowledged”, could be your signal that you have the information you need and that they should stop talking, while not making a big deal about it. To me, phrases like “This is what we agreed we wouldn’t do!” sound overly confrontational and accusatory, while an innocuous phrase that you both know means, “stop talking, please”, may work better. I know that’s what I would prefer.

    I never realized how Midwestern I am. Sorry! Oh wait, um, now I’m doing it! Understood and acknowledged.

  53. Chrissy*

    It took me a while to stop doing this in my current job. It was more of a reflexive action to always ask for reassurance or over apologize. I was trying too hard to fit in, be liked, and show that I was a caring employee who just wanted to do everything right. It took me time to learn that doing this actually made me unlikeable. I could see my coworkers getting exhausted by my behavior. They all liked me a lot more when I started acting a lot more autonomous and showing them that they could rely on me to make my own smart decisions and stand by them without so much reassurance.

  54. Stephanie*

    I have this problem. But it’s due to my boss saying one thing (or NOT saying anything; even though they were given plenty of opportunities to) and then coming back a few days later and reprimanding me for it. Or requesting one thing then another, and then want to know why the first wasn’t accomplished. Nothing is direct and yet their are too many people directing at my company. Exhaustive and completely draining!

  55. wholenewworld*

    For what it’s worth, I’ve seen this before (in young people) as a verbal tic that isn’t necessarily related to workplace issues, although anxiety is certainly part of it. Some people are just too timid to end a conversation or are too anxious to recognize when the conversation’s over. I would think this is especially difficult in the workplace because sometimes the reason for ending the conversation isn’t a clear force like the participants are now moving in opposite directions or the phone’s ringing, it’s just the pull of needing to get back to work! Explaining one’s reasoning in greater and greater detail is just something to say in a conversation that is lasting too long. Reminding the person that you need to get back to work, or make a call, etc. when this starts happening can jolt the person out of it until they can tell for themselves when an interaction should be over.

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