I overheard my girlfriend on a work call and am worried she’s a mean boss

A reader writes,

My significant other, Beverly, is a senior consultant/team lead. From time to time, she’ll do conference calls when I’m home. I know generally how she acts at work and what her job entails.

One of her new subordinates, Deanna, gave a presentation to her and her boss, Tasha. The little I heard from Deanna seemed reasonable, though not linguistically polished. However, at every pause or suggestion, both Tasha and Beverly would rip into her. Why didn’t she do this? Wasn’t this her responsibility? This shouldn’t be happening. Beverly even began one sentence with the “Yeaaahhhh…” often parodied from “Office Space” before one of her criticisms. Deanna would give a timid response that would be snapped down shortly thereafter.

After the call, I mentioned they seemed pretty hard on Deanna. My SO explained Deanna was supposed to produce an executable plan and instead did a PowerPoint, which she was told not to do. Plus, Deanna was getting ready to go solo on a project and was still unsure of herself. Beverly has apparently explained that consulting means being unsure and running with it.

I am a med student and this interaction reminded me of being in the hospital. The rumors about maltreatment by doctors, ranging from verbal abuse to violence and sexual impropriety, are all 100% true. I’ve been subjected to relatively mild mistreatment compared to that of my friends, but it leaves a mark. I recognized the tone of Deanna’s voice: the powerlessness, the knowledge you’re about to be trashed for an honest mistake, and the fear that another wrong move will ruin your career.

At the same time, this was Deanna’s screw-up and it sounds like this has been an issue for a few months. Am I overreacting? Do I bother to say anything?

Well, the subject line of your email to me was “I heard my SO on a conference call and now I’m not attracted to her,” so I think you need to talk about it.

It’s possible that in talking about it, you’ll find that the situation is different than it sounded to you. It sounds like you’re interpreting it though the lens of your own experience in medicine, and maybe that’s accurate — but maybe it’s not.

There are situations where reasonable and kind managers need to be pretty critical. If Deanna was given specific instructions that she ignored, that’s a big deal. If this is part of an ongoing pattern, that’s an even bigger deal. If I asked someone for an executable plan and got, say, a very bare-bones PowerPoint (after I’d specifically said “don’t make a PowerPoint”), I’d be pretty concerned. If we were relying on that plan for something we needed to move quickly on and were now going to lose time in a situation where we couldn’t easily afford that, I might be pretty frustrated too.

A decent manager isn’t going to “rip into someone” — but people define that differently, so it’s hard to know exactly what happened in that conversation. Personal remarks (like “why can’t you get anything right?”) aren’t okay, and neither is berating someone or belaboring a point over and over. The specifics you relayed — that they asked her why she didn’t do the work they’d requested and said that this shouldn’t be happening — aren’t in themselves outrageous; it depends on the delivery. A calmly stated “why didn’t you do the project we talked about?”/“this is a serious problem and can’t keep happening” are what managers should be saying in this situation. I’d even forgive a manager for sounding a little frustrated in this conversation — ideally they wouldn’t, but it happens. On the other hand, if they were speaking to her in an abusive or hostile way or berating her, that’s a problem.

I don’t know where on that spectrum this conversation fell, but maybe it’s useful to consider that the substance of it isn’t inherently awful (although the tone may have been).

Anyway, I do think you need to talk to Beverly about how unsettled the conversation made you feel. You could say something like, “I’ve been having trouble shaking the conversation I heard you and Tasha have with Deanna the other day. It seems like you were both _____ (fill in with whatever’s accurate: “really ripping into her,” “berating her past the point that it was productive,” “not cutting her any slack,” or so forth). She sounded terrified, and it reminded me of what I see at the hospital that bothers me. I know I don’t have the full story, but I keep thinking about what I heard and I wondered if you’d talk to me about what was going on there and why you and Tasha used that approach with her.”

Then see what she says. Maybe you’ll learn something that makes it make sense to you, or maybe you’ll conclude your girlfriend is an abusive manager, who knows. But talk about it and see.

By the way: Managers generally get more frustrated by performance problems — and are more likely to lose their tempers — when they don’t have the authority to impose actual consequences (including firing) … or, much more commonly, when they’re not willing to use that authority. If Deanna really does have ongoing, serious performance issues and hasn’t responded to clear and direct feedback, you might point out to Beverly that she’s not doing Deanna any favors by keeping her in a position where she’s facing constant criticism.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 420 comments… read them below }

  1. Christy*

    One thought for the OP–a consultant’s presentation, even internal, should be “linguistically polished”. And frankly, it doesn’t matter if what she said made sense to you–you don’t have the project context that your significant other does. Lots of things can sound reasonable when devoid of context.

    I certainly can’t speak to her tone, but I don’t really take much issue with the subject of your significant other’s feedback for Deanna.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, that and the powerpoint they were specifically asked not to provide definitely make the case that Deanna screwed up – maybe even past the point of the “honest mistake” benefit of the doubt. But even when someone screws up, being gratuitously harsh and sarcastic is still uncalled for.

    2. CoffeeLover*

      Coming from a consulting background (particularly at the big guys) this type of conservation is normal. Harsh criticism when you mess up is just how the cookie crumbles. It’s kind of a make or break environment. People don’t really get put on PIPs or have nice sit down conversations with their project leads. It’s usually an “everything is on fire” situation and feedback is given bluntly and in the moment. People also tend to be less than kind during this feedback but I think that has a lot to do with the pressure they feel (clients and their own boss breathing down their neck). If Deanne wants to make it in that environment, she needs to role with the punches (and it sounds like she is).

      While I don’t think it’s right (I left for a reason), I do think that your environment affects the way you behave. I think you need to give your girlfriend slack in that sense. She is likely acting how she’s seen other managers act and how she herself was/is treated.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        I wanted to add that I also really like Alison’s advice. Talking to her about it is important. I think particularly when we get caught up in a bad environment it can be really eye opening/beneficial to hear things from an outside perspective. But I also suspect your SO may feel somewhat defensive if this is the way things are done where she works.

      2. Xay*

        Agreed – I did a short stint in consulting and although the conversation sounds a little more harsh than I was accustomed to, it doesn’t sound that unusual. That said, the OP should follow Alison’s advice and talk to his girlfriend.

      3. Anonymoose*

        “It’s kind of a make or break environment.”

        This is absolute horseshit justification for a pseudo-hazing environment. It’s the same in medicine (with possible actual dire consequences) and studies are showing that it’s a 100% adopted cultural affectation, not something necessary to ‘teach better’ or to have learners ‘not mess up’ when things are truly crucial.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah, I read this and didn’t think Beverly’s reaction was inherently egregious. OP may have different expectations/norms than the ones provided in consulting. The kinds of issues OP identifies as problems are cause for being fired in the consultancy world. And there’s a pattern of this? I’m honestly surprised Deanna is still employed there.

      Of course it’s not ok to be cruel, but blunt criticism is definitely within bounds. If I had told a report not to make a powerpoint and they brought one in, you can believe that my feedback might include frank questions like, “Isn’t this your role?” “Why haven’t you done X?” and so on.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        “Why didn’t she do this? Wasn’t this her responsibility? This shouldn’t be happening.”

        OP, if my report were delivering to me something I had told her not to produce (the PowerPoint) in a way that was not linguistically polished, I would be using the exact same terms. This is not ripping into someone. It’s managing an employee who has produced substandard work.

        That’s the content. Only you can know about the tone of voice Beverly used. If you felt the tone was angry, bear in mind that substandard work can cause anger. If you thought it was patronizing, then focus on that in the conversation. Just bear in mind that this may not be the first time Beverly has underperformed.

      2. Faith2014*

        I’ve been in consulting over 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of nastiness and intensely dislike it. Just because some people do it doesn’t make it right (this isn’t aimed at you, Princess). But I don’t like this type of behavior being excused because “consulting”. There’s too much ‘mean girling’ in my industry, and it’s inexcusable.

  2. Snark*

    It’s the “yeahhhhhh” that conclusively tipped me into “Beverly is not a kind and good person” territory. Look, I’ve been in EXACTLY this spot with someone almost precisely in Deanna’s situation – right down to the “this is not a plan, this is one step up from a jot on a stained cocktail napkin”. I got good and irritated at them. I told them so.

    But there’s a difference between being extremely irked at an underling who’s too timid and unsure of themselves to function without micromanagement, and using sarcasm and cruelty to just cut them off at the knees. Anybody who reads my posts here knows I’m on the direct and unsparing side, but there’s a difference between that and kicking someone when they’re down.

    1. Mike C.*

      I’m with you here. Specifics and context are important, but not being a jerk is universal. I think the OP is right in wanting to have a serious talk about this.

        1. fposte*

          As noted, though, a lot of us know Office Space and don’t automatically think of it when we hear “Yeah…”, so it’s not everyone else.

          1. LeRainDrop*

            I agree with fposte. And part of what actually built the Lumberg character is the very fact that so many offices have bosses who are like him or who already use those types of phrases. It’s not like we learned the word “yeah,” or even a somewhat drawn out “yeah,” from Office Space!

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        She used an innocuous phrase that a comedic movie character used in a different context. That’s hardly acting like a jerk.

    2. Justme*

      Same. I would have no issue if Beverly had just told Deanna that her presentation sucked and then told her why. It’s the sarcasm and nastiness that I dislike (and I am fluent in sarcasm, but realize that there is a time and place for it).

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on how she said/meant it though. I could imagine someone saying that not as an attempt to reference Office Space, but as a sort of filler while they think about exactly how to respond to something troubling. (If she meant it as a reference to Office Space, that’s really, really weird to do that in the middle of a serious conversation, so I think it’s pretty plausible that she didn’t.)

        1. Willoboughy*

          I have no idea what “Office Space” is and no clue what this is referencing, but I am quite capable of saying a drawn-out “yeeeeaaaahhhh” as filler while I’m trying to formulate my thoughts. I think it’s rather unreasonable to assume this is a deliberate thing.

          1. Doe-Eyed*

            One of the characters has a very passive aggressive, flat nasally “Yeaaaaaaaaaaaah” inflection that’s pretty distinct. Most people would not make a yeah with that intonation while they were thinking.

            1. Liz T*

              I looked it up, and from the clips I’ve found it’s not NEARLY as drawn out as people are making it look. (I would transcribe it more like, “yyeah.” He chews the y a bit at the beginning, but doesn’t really elongate the word.)

              That fictional boss is (I presume) a bad boss, but that doesn’t mean every boss who says “yeah” while trying to quash down frustration is also a bad boss.

          2. Snark*

            Office Space is a pretty common cultural referent for Americans age 30 or so and over. It was delivered in a pretty distinctive and recognizable way, because the movie was probably the least subtle parody I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard it used as verbal filler and it’s generally not delivered in the same way. Obviously I can’t know exactly how Beverly delivered it, because all we’ve got is OP’s take, but.

            1. Snark*

              Also, interesting that there’s at least three people who have no idea how it was used in the movie are nonetheless insisting that any interpretation of it as deliberate is unreasonable. C’mon, really?

              1. Say what, now?*

                I think the issue is that people of our age group who are also American (maybe also Canadian?) are very familiar with Office Space. It was a cult classic for us. But one of the wonderful things at this blog is that you get perspectives from age groups above and below that line and different nationalities and movie tastes from a broad spectrum. It’s unfair to assume that Deanna fits in our group and hears it as we do.

                Although, for the record, I do it all the time. It happens when I don’t want to tell someone that their presentation sucks; I think it’s my voice trying to delay the inevitable. As though in the space of that yeah, something might change. I try to fight it but it happens. It especially happens when I know the person that I’m about to tell bad news to is going to take that criticism not as “your presentation needs work” but as “you are a bad person and you don’t deserve this job.”

            2. Willoboughy*

              Well, I’m a 41 year old American and I’ve never heard of it. Nor have 4 of the 5 colleagues in my office st present. So I guess your cultural mileage may vary?

              I just think it’s pretty unkind to assume this was a deliberate reference and not just something the OP read into it. Assuming that casts a nasty tone over the whole interaction that seems unwarranted to me.

              1. Brandy*

                Its a movie by Mike Judge from the 1990s. Pretty popular and still in re-runs a lot. Jennifer Aniston was in it.

                1. Mazzy*

                  That was Office Space not The Office. I’ve half watched both and don’t recognize references to either

                2. Brandy*

                  Oh, didn’t you see the seen with Gary Cole talking to Ron Livingston at the beginning. Telling him he had to come into work on Saturday.

              2. Snark*

                And I think it’s unreasonable for you to triple down on dismissing my point when you’re admittedly ignorant of the reference. I maintain it’s a distinctive enough delivery to be unmistakable. Feel free to agree to disagree.

                1. Broadcastlady*

                  I’m amazed there are people that have not seen this movie! You must, it’s fabulous! We had a terribly old computer at our station that did ONE thing. When we finally were able to get rid of it boss and I took it outside and went all “Office Space” on it. Felt great.

                2. Brandy*

                  I’m so surprised all the people on here saying they haven’t seen it. Everyone I know has seen it.

                3. Agatha_31*

                  I’ve seen it, I disagree. I know more people who haven’t seen it than who have, and I’ve often heard “yyyyyyyeah” used interchangeably with “ummmmmmmm” or “ehhhhhh”. Yes, I have a giggle to myself because *I* instantly think “Office Space”, but I don’t flip out and assume that they’re clearly being sarcastic. As Alison pointed out, it’s a common ‘filler’ noise. If someone was using it consistently I’d probably call them out on it, but I’d call them on being unable to formulate sentences without using filler, same as I would for too many “ums” or “ehs” – not for “Office Spacing”.

                4. Lunchy*

                  I haven’t watched the entire thing, but clips of it were shown in my freshman Literature class in college. I forget the significance, but it goes to show that it does have a cult following (and my professor wasn’t even one of those ‘early 30’s, I’m going to be a cool teacher’ types).

                5. MashaKasha*

                  I, too, am amazed that people are able to get through their day-to-day office lives without Office Space references, or without having ever seen Office Space. Workplace craziness is a lot easier to survive, and to avoid normalizing, when one remembers that this is so pervasive, and so abnormal, they made a movie about it way back in the 90s. I did not even live in the US until the late 90s, and it was one of the first classic movies I saw after coming here, because I was told by multiple people I needed to see it. (Yeaahhh, if you’d watch Office Space this weekend, that would be great.)

                  It was however initially introduced to me as the “movie about working in IT”, so maybe it is not as relevant to those outside of the tech field as it is to those in it. I don’t know. Neither do I know anyone in my generation who has never seen it.

                6. Kali*

                  People seem to be stating that they might say the word ‘yeah’ in that way despite not having seen the movie/know the reference. I might do the same myself, despite, again, never having seen the movie. That seems like pretty strong evidence that people might make that sound without intending that specific reference.

              3. Ramona Flowers*

                I know it well. Nobody else I know seems to. I just got my husband to watch it for the first time recently as I couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it.

              4. Lana Mio*

                If you don’t get the reference and can’t be bothered to do a 2 second google search, then you probably shouldn’t weigh in.

              5. Kathleen Adams*

                It might be unkind for me to read anything negative into that “yeah,” but the OP knows Beverly pretty well, and if the OP says Beverly was making an Office Space reference, I think odds are pretty good that it was an Office Space reference.

              6. Where's Ro Laren?*

                Indeed. I wonder if OP also assumed that everyone would catch on to the fact his officemates have pseudonyms from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

            3. swingbattabatta*

              32 year old American here (who has seen Office Space multiple times). I also find myself using a drawn out “yeahhhh” on occasion, but it is pretty much always because I am trying to find the words that will express my frustration without hammering the person. It’s a filler, it cuts off the additional excuses, and it gives me a moment to collect myself.

          3. JamieS*

            I don’t either but based on context I think OP was trying to convey Beverly said it in a condescending or demeaning tone and not just as a filler.

            1. a1*

              Yes! And not even necessarily that OP’s girlfriend was referencing the movie. OP referenced it to give us context only.

              1. SusanIvanova*

                Office Space didn’t invent the tropes like that, it highlighted the way real dysfunctional offices worked.

                1. aebhel*

                  Exactly! Whether or not OP’s girlfriend was deliberately referencing Office Space, the fact that her attitude was calling Lumbergh into mind is… not a positive thing.

                2. Theodoric of York*

                  What Aebhel said. The OP is more likely than any of us to know if Beverly knows about Office Space and whether she is likely to use “yeeeaaaah” in a cruel fashion. The fact that OP wrote in to say so is the crux of the matter.

          4. Fiennes*

            It might not be reasonable for us — but LW, who spends significant time with Beverly & knows her very well, could feel more sure of that interpretation. Yes, even SOs can get each other wrong (which is why talking is important!), but this seems to have hit LW pretty hard, so I’m tending to trust that gut reaction.

            1. Charisma*

              I too am surprised that so many people are directly dismissing the context that the LW themselves provided just because they didn’t see the movie or are unfamiliar with the meme. I believe we should trust the LW’s instincts here. They are simply using the movie as a means of describing the interaction so that we, the readers, can better visualize it ourselves. What is so difficult about that?

              1. PM Jesper Berg*

                There’s nothing “so difficult about it.” The question is what is so damning about it. So Beverly draws out her pronunciation of the word “yeeaah” in a way reminiscent of a character in an overrated movie that Beverly may or may not have known about. Big whoop. There’s nothing *inherently* jerkish about it, even if the movie character was a jerk.

                1. Charisma*

                  My point is that we aren’t trusting the LW and instead getting hung up on who has and who hasn’t seen the movie and/or meme (in comments section). If we can’t take the LW at their own word and take their meaning at face value, then we lose the core purpose of their dilemma and our ability to help them.

                  I personally think realizing your SO might have some character flaws you were previously unaware of is pretty significant. I have broken up with people over this type of thing in the past, but for me the behavior was so obviously cruel and Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde-ish that my path was pretty clear. Our LW is still questioning their reality and wondering if they are over-reacting. For starters, this was a 2 against 1 scenario, Beverly and Tasha seem to be exhibiting the same behavior towards Deanna. Does that mean Beverly’s demeanor was totally normal? Does that mean Beverly is taking her cues from Tasha and it’s really Tasha who has the not so great management style? Or is the reason Beverly is doing so well at her job is because Tasha and her are birds of a feather? Even if Beverly and Tasha are completely right about Deanna’s work and presentation, treating your subordinates with dignity and respect tends to get way better results.

            2. Kathleen Adams*

              Yeah, exactly. (I said this above before seeing your post, Fiennes.) The OP surely knows if Beverly is likely to make this reference. Deciding that a “yeah” stated by a stranger is definitely an Office Space reference might be pretty problematic. But if the OP says that Beverly was making an Office Space reference, I think the odds are pretty good that Beverly was making an Office Space reference.

          5. Falling Diphthong*

            Seconding on no clue what this reference is, and I’m an American over 30, moderately hip to ‘literary’ memes. (i.e. Stuff from film and TV, even if I don’t watch the specific show.)

            How mean a sighed “Yeeeaaah…” lands probably depends both on the immediate context, and whether you mentally insert an entire movie there. (On the part of speaker or listener.) I think a wide range of intents is possible, from “I mean this in the most scathing, dismissive way possible” to “Yeah… this is not what I told you to do. It is specifically what I told you not to do.”

            That last part is where I give Beverly the benefit of the doubt, because it’s one thing to cast as “honest mistake” making an elaborate cocktail napkin when you were told “make up a presentation thingy on it for next week” and another when you were given explicit instructions on what to not do. (Currently dealing with the other side of this, where the clients are finally providing “Okay, when we say “put in a llama grooming prompt here” we want it to look like this, from this other program none of you were involved with, and no one thought to give you samples from it even when several people asked. But in the mind of the person who said “put a llama grooming prompt here” it was supposed to look this one narrow, specific way, for example, it would not say ‘llama grooming’ at all.”)

          6. Specialk9*

            I posted the link above. It’s one of those things that can’t be unheard, so your thinking it’s innocuous is decidedly NOT how others will take it. You can decide for yourself if you’re going to insist on the principle of how things should be, or accept that you do something that is heard very badly by a huge section of people.

        2. Observer*

          Well, that’s not necessarily a good indicator. It’s worth remembering that he’s filtering through his experience of an abusive workplace (which DOES mess with your perceptions), so he might not be entirely reliable here even with the full context. And, he clearly does NOT have / understand the context. For instance, the issue of “not linguistically polished” is almost certainly a bigger deal than he seems to think. So is the issue of not presenting what the bosses asked for.

          I’m not saying that he IS wrong – just that he MAY be wrong. Which is why Alison’s advice to talk to his GF is a good idea.

        3. INTP*

          But it was a joke in Office Space in the first place because it’s not an unusual thing for managers to do while preparing to say something that they know someone doesn’t want to hear.

          1. LeRainDrop*

            Exactly! Lumberg didn’t invent the “yyyeaahhh.” He’s a reflection of what everyone already recognized as a basic boss.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            Right. The jokes in Office Space are jokes because they’re mild exaggerations of things that happen in real workplaces. That doesn’t mean that they’re great things to do, but it also means that they’re not necessarily deliberate sarcastic/mocking references.

      1. dr_silverware*

        I don’t think Beverly was referring to Office Space, I think the LW was alluding to it as a way to evocatively describe the specific tone of Beverly’s “yeahhhhh.”

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m with Alison on this. I don’t think the “yeaaaah” use is inherently sarcastic or cruel. I’ve seen people use it as filler, especially when confronted with a situation in which the person they supervise has completely fouled everything up. In those circumstances, I’ve seen senior folks try to buy time to gather their thoughts and moderate their feedback by using a drawn out “yeaaah.” To me it’s often a sign that someone’s trying to be thoughtful, not that they’re bullying or sarcastic.

        And I’ve never seen a person actually quote Office Space while doing something like that.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Right. When I have to make a correction to someone and I know it’s going to be awkward and I’m trying to figure out how to word it, I sometimes go “Soooooo, uh” or “Ummmm, so” or whatever. “Yyyeaaaaah” doesn’t seem a far step off from that. It’s not that I’m trying to annoy or make fun of them, it’s that I’m scrambling to figure out how to put the on-the-spot critique into words. There’s a reason it’s something that was parodied in Office Space: it’s a fairly common/easy thing to do if you’re charged at managing/correcting someone and you’re imperfect at it.

      1. JHunz*

        OP specifically referenced Office Space, so we’re all naturally assuming it was used with an arrogant and dismissive tone.

          1. Mike C.*

            That’s how it was delivered in the movie and the audience was intended to draw all sorts of conclusions from a single word.

            Have you never seen the “f*ck” scene in “The Wire”? Single word, lots and lots to conclude from it.

            1. Cat*

              I’ve seen the movie. The issue with it there was really how repetitive it waas, not that the guy said it once in a stressful conversation.

                1. Cat*

                  OMG, really? I took away that the guy was a passive aggressive jerk because of a pattern of behavior. Not because he said “yeah” once.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Clearly it is, which is why she said that. People can disagree on this, and I don’t want them to get jumped on for holding a different point of view than someone else.

                3. Snark*

                  I’m feeling more than slightly piled on here myself, come to mention.

                  And Cat – yes, it was of course a pattern of behavior, but I recall the “yeah” being used to squash dissent from underlings, not just as a repetitive verbal tic.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Just to clarify since this comes up sometimes: comments from a large number of people disagreeing is a different thing than a snarky response. My issue is with the latter (the former is a reflection of a large engaged commenting community).

          2. Sylvan*

            You wouldn’t draw the conclusion that saying “yeah” dismissively, as described by the OP, was dismissive?

            1. Cat*

              I wouldn’t draw the conclusion that someone is a bad boss who’s unreasonably berating their employee because they used a filler word dismissively once.

              1. Sylvan*

                All right. Well, OP heard the conversation and I’m going to take her word for it; she knows more about what she heard than we could know.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I’m in the same boat as you, Cat. I think OP may be filtering the conversation through their own experiences and lens, which may put a different interpretation on the exchange than the one others might come to. But I wouldn’t conclude someone’s a bad boss because they used “yeah” in a dismissive or transitional way, once.

                1. fposte*

                  And the problem with it in Office Space isn’t that it’s mean, it’s that it’s linguistic hackery.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        Agreed. I have never watched office space and don’t even know what the thing being referenced is, but I have definitely both said “yeah” and heard colleagues say “yeah” in an infinite variety of tones. Even a long drawn out yeah could just mean “I’m collecting my thoughts here and want to hold speaking space so you don’t start talking about something unrelated.” It’s not the most polished or professional way to do it, but it’s a far cry from “obviously abusive.” I’ve often used it with my Problem Mentee in the context of “Yeahhhh. . .I see where you thought this was a good idea. Unfortunately, X, Y, and Z also apply. Your approach isn’t going to get the result we need and I want you to switch gears and do this other approach instead. [insert long patient explanation, for the ninth time this quarter, of why X, Y, and Z should always be considered in this project]” Again, I know it’s not a particularly polished way of speaking, but it slows me down and lets my filters engage, so that I don’t end up saying “What the hell were you thinking? We’ve talked about X, Y, and Z a dozen times and I pretty much expect you not to be reminded of them at this point in your development.”

        1. JulieBulie*

          It’s a very sarcastic, condescending “yeaaaaaaaah” that clearly says “NO, and I can’t quickly come up with an articulate way to express the depth of my contempt for you.”

          1. CM*

            Yes, and this is exactly how I took it in the OP’s letter: not that they were deliberately referencing Office Space or saying it exactly like it was said in the movie, but that their tone reminded the OP of how dismissive and contemptuous the bosses in Office Space acted. The Office Space tone is more like negging, like they’re pretending to be on your side when their message is clearly saying the opposite.

        2. Snark*

          Like I said above: the Office Space “yeahhhhh” is really distinctive and exaggerated, because the movie was not subtle. It’s not the kind of yeahhhhh a normal person speaking normally would use, and it wouldn’t be easy to replicate it unless you were consciously referencing the movie. It’s super nasal, the syllables are overstressed, and it drops to a super-exaggerated flat “uhhhhh” that lingers a beat too long.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Yep and there’s still memes being made about it today. I have one on my wall in my office regarding customer turnover.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            Actually, I think saying Yeah like Lumberg became so pervasive, I bet there’s tons of people that picked it up without even knowing where it came from.

          3. LBK*

            This just straight up isn’t true, go watch the clip I posted below. He barely says it in an unusual way, it’s the fact that he says it at the beginning of almost every sentence that makes it noteworthy. This is like “No, Luke, I am your father” or “Play it again, Sam” – there’s been a cultural game of Telephone that has convinced people of something that’s not actually present in the movie.

            1. LBK*

              (And FWIW, after seeing him on Veep for several years now I’m pretty sure this is just how Gary Cole talks.)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                OMG, I did not realize until just now that that actor is the same as the one on Veep. (I am terrible at this. For the whole first four or five episodes of Game of Thrones, I thought Jon and Robb were the same person. Also, the first time I saw Love Actually, I thought that Liam Neeson’s character and Alan Rickman were the same person and was VERY confused.)

                1. LBK*

                  Ha, I actually didn’t realize it either until just now I was rewatching the clip and I was like…wait…is that Kent? And then had to Google it to confirm.

                2. Jesca*

                  I do this too. I often tell people I would be a horrible witness to a crime. I would no way of IDing the suspect!

                3. Awkward Interviewee*

                  I did not realize that either, and I love Veep. After looking him up, I also didn’t realize that he did a guest role on the show Chuck, which is also one of my favorites. I’m usually pretty decent at recognizing actor faces (not so much names, but more like, that face looks familiar, are they in something else I’ve seen?). Interesting.

                4. Coalea*

                  He also played Diane Lockhart’s firearms expert boyfriend (and eventual husband) on The Good Wife.

            2. Snark*

              Funny, because I am, and I’m hearing him overstress and chew on the “Y”, with the tone falling like a hockey stick, and I cannot think of anybody else who does that unless they’re imitating Lumberg.

              We can agree to disagree if you’d like, but I do still trust these lying ears.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  One of my coworkers says “Yyyeah okay so” at the beginning of every third sentence. It seems to just be a verbal tic along the lines of “Umm” or “So, like” in her case.

    4. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I’m not sure, I’ve definitely said “yeahhhh…” or head others say it in work settings and I’ve never seen Office Space. It may be that OP made that leap on his own and is using that connotation to read more into the exchange than exists.

      Or his girlfriend is a jerk. But I don’t necessarily think that’s a definitive sign of jerkiness, especially if all of the criticisms provided were warranted.

      1. Muriel Heslop*

        I hear people do this all the time and I thought it was verbal filler. Maybe I’ve even said it? I’ve never seen Office Space and didn’t know this was sarcastic…until today.

        1. Snark*

          Sometimes it is a verbal filler, but I hear it often enough as a recognizable Office Space referent that I think OP probably knew what he heard.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Yep. Notice how the people coming in to say that the OP shouldn’t read too much into the ‘yeahhh’ are the ones who also haven’t seen Office Space.

              It is a really distinctive thing, y’all.

                1. Jesca*

                  I don’t know. I am leaning to the side of Snark on this one. I’d watch the clip again. I was skeptical before, but after watching it? You cannot misconstrue that. Its saying “I don’t really give a shit about your reasons” type of dismissal. And while the OP may be pulling from dysfunctional experiences, but I think we can give the benefit of doubt of his take on this. You can’t confuse that with any other context. And if she did go to that level, then she may not be a very good manager.

                  And if it clouded his judgement of her when he was not even the intended target, it could be clouding a lot of other people’s perceptions of her as well. Lots of people have toxic job PTSD. This may hinder her!

                1. Liz T*

                  Agreed! The character is clearly distinctive overall, but that “yeah” is of normal length and isn’t actually the most obnoxious part of it. (I assume he’s obnoxious, but I haven’t seen the whole thing. Maybe Justin Theroux should’ve just used the proper cover letter.)

                2. Purplesaurus*

                  Agreed. I always viewed his use of “yeah” as an additional piece of flair contributing to his overall annoyingness. And not that his use of it was singularly problematic.

                3. LCL*

                  I believe that there are a lot of modern catchphrases in use that are overly snarky (sorry dude this isn’t at you) that people use for whatever reason. Sometimes to show how clever they are, sometimes to be sarcastic, sometimes because they are around people who talk like that and don’t realize how annoying it is. The long, drawn out ‘yeah’ is in that category, as is ‘ding ding ding’ or ‘winner winner chicken dinner’ or ‘return the awkward to sender’ or, you can list others I’m sure. I’m still attached to Church Lady’s ‘well isn’t that special’ but I wouldn’t use it to critique someone’s job performance.

                4. Falling Diphthong*

                  First time I’ve seen it.

                  Someone exactly quoting that “Yeah…” as a preface to a remark doesn’t strike me as problematic.

                  (I think both “This was normal deserved feedback for an employee repeating the same mistake, heard through the ‘but my workplace is toxic’ filter” and “This was mean people rolling around in a power differential” are valid possibilities, plus points in between, based on the letter.)

                5. Falling Diphthong*

                  In more detail, in the clip:
                  • It’s the first time this has been a problem.
                  • It is very minor.
                  • It is easy to rectify.
                  • If the boss is reacting to a history of this employee ignoring memos, or forgetting details in a job that requires them, or setting fire to cover sheets, or feeding the cover sheets to llamas with a chaser of the latest memo on cover sheets, there’s no indication of that.
                  • Yet he goes on and on and on, in a passive aggressive way, with the “yeah” a verbal tic to indicate that they are on the same side here, buuuuut… (to my ears). When there should be either a quick “You need to put a cover sheet on this” or a lengthy and specific “This is the 4th time this has happened this month. You need to hit the present format for these reports, not the one from 6 months ago, even if it means double-checking all the presentation details before you send it off…”

                  That is, the “yeah” isn’t really the problem in the bad management on display. Plus, the situation OP describes is wildly different–it’s not the first time it’s been a problem, it may mean important things are delayed because this was supposed to be at the actionable plan stage and there are intersecting deadlines it messes up, it’s not the cover sheet or title font or something similarly easy to rectify in 2 minutes.

                6. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*


                  Is “return awkward to sender” generally considered a snarky catchphrase? I’m totally serious, I’ve only heard it referenced at Captain Awkward, where it’s not a catchphrase, but a good solid piece of advice.

              1. Koko*

                I’ve seen Office Space and I know the actor in that film uses a distinctive tone. But I’ve also seen it happen plenty of times that someone who hears the same thing I do interprets it differently because as someone said above we all bring our own baggage to interpretation. (TV shows play on this a lot, filming a scene two ways to show how it was perceived by an actor and how it actually happened.) If this guy is traumatized by having an abusive boss that could very well color his interpretation of her tone. Tone is a really shaky thing to go on, and doubly so for second-hand reports of tone.

              2. INTP*

                I have seen Office Space, and I think it’s a bit excessive to read into the OP’s account of that one word that Beverly is a crappy person. My initial interpretation when reading was the the “yeaaahhhhhh” was being used in the same context as the guy said it in Office Space (trying to sound non-confrontational while saying something the recipient doesn’t want to hear, maybe dismissing any rebuttals), not that Beverly was deliberately doing an impersonation to mock her employee. That movie resonated with so many people because it exaggerated and mocked things that so many corporate managers actually do and was relatable, it’s not like the “yeah” came from nowhere.

              3. palomar*

                I don’t know, Countess… I’ve seen Office Space easily twenty times, but I think that reading this much into one person’s reporting of the way another person said one word, all filtered through a third party (our beloved columnist), is probably a terrible idea. Can you think of a time you’ve ever said or done something that could have been misconstrued by someone else who lacked full context? Would it be fair to take that misinterpretation of your words and treat it as gospel truth indicative of your overall character? Because wow, that’s sure what’s happening here.

              4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I can literally quote whole sections of Office Space (I used to be able to quote the entire movie), and I don’t have the same interpretation of Beverly’s tone/demeanor as Snark and others have suggested.

                I think folks are really overly focused on one part of the story to the exclusion of other key issues that OP flagged.

                1. Skunklet*

                  domestic box office in 1999 when the movie came out was a measely 10.8M. average ticket price that year was $5; maybe 2 M in the US saw it when it came out (I didn’t); it wasn’t this huge hit that some have made it out to be – maybe it looms larger b/c there are far more spoofs about it than anything – I recognize it b/c of Gary Cole’s character’s clothing and those spoofs more than anything …. if someone had’ve said that, i might have recognized the reference but wouldn’t’ve put any stock into it….

                2. oranges & lemons*

                  Yep. I think this is a good example of commenters’ tendency to get really attached to one reading of the letter based on very little information. In this case it’s particularly exaggerated because the letter writer’s impression was already ambiguous (and influenced by their own experiences in a different industry).

            1. Specialk9*

              That’s an assumption. I find movies mildly interesting to see but not talk about. I just ran through my boyfriend/husband rolodex and have no idea if any of them have seen it. I guess I assume they have because most office workers of a certain age I know have.

    5. kittymommy*

      Ditto. There’s something with this that kind of focused everything else closer to what the LW is thinking.

    6. Genny*

      I haven’t seen the movie (TV show?), but I’m assuming it’s that one meme that goes yeaaaaaah, if you could just not X, that’d be great. GF may not have been directly copying the movie, but if her delivery was close enough that that’s the image that the LW associated with her delivery/tone, then GF needs to rethink her management techniques. She sounds like she’s setting Deanna up to fail.

  3. Reinhardt*

    Alison’s advice is spot on. Actually talk to your girlfriend, communication is key in any relationship (says me, the guy who is single).

  4. Curiouser and curiouser*

    I hope you can have a good, effective conversation with Beverly where she can hear how she sounds to other people. She may discover that she is becoming someone she doesn’t want to be because of Deanna. And she may have to make a tough decision about keeping her. She may also discover that she learning, adapting to Tasha’s drill instructor style. If that is how she wants/needs to be to succeed in this company, then she may be in the right place. That is just what managers do at HSB Inc. Or she and Tasha have a perverse dynamic where Beverly is trying to prove how tough/cool she is to gain approval and not be the one attacked.

    1. I get that*

      I also wondered if Tasha’s presence had an influence. Group dynamics are very different than one on ones especially when they in love multiple layers of authority.

    2. Yetanother Jennifer*

      I can understand how context and personalities might contribute to Beverly’s behavior. There was a woman I worked with who just rubbed me the wrong way. She was a very nice person who did her job well. I liked her as a person. But I had to train her on how to use some software and it just wasn’t her thing. I would get so uncharacteristically frustrated and it showed in my tone and probably my word choice, although I was never insulting. I was aware of it and hated that I reacted that way to her. She even noticed and commented and I worked really hard to overcome my annoyance when working with her. We got over that hump and ended up with a good working relationship and even kept in touch for a while after I left.

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    It sounds like overhearing this conversation is making you second guess your relationship with your girlfriend. Alison is right that you need to talk to her about it and why it’s making you uneasy, but you should also ask yourself if you’ve witnessed non work related things that are contributing to this. How does she treat servers when you go out to eat? How does she react if someone makes a mistake in a customer service situation? If there is a pattern of bad behavior, that should tell you a lot.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I had the same thought and wondered if there had been other instances yet nothing so egregious as this.

    2. NW Mossy*

      Or perhaps most importantly of all, how does Beverly treat you, OP? Does she direct this kind of critique towards you? If she hasn’t, does it make you anxious or nervous to think about how it would go if she did? It may be worth exploring this a bit to see if rings true, because it’s hard to feel secure and loved in a relationship if you don’t trust how your SO will react when their expectations aren’t met.

      1. LKW*

        This was my question. People can compartmentalize and have their work personality and friend personality. But if she doesn’t have this capability – yeah, my spidey-sense might be tingling.

    3. Mints*

      Yeah, even if the GF was on the jerkier side of what’s acceptable, I don’t think this conversation is outrageous enough to be a deal breaker on its own. If GF is generally very kind and this is just the end of a frustrating process, she might be fine. On the other hand, if GF is often mean to waiters, maids, cashiers, etc. and the OP never noticed until it hit too close to home, that’s a pattern that might be a deal breaker.

    4. Parenthetically*

      This was my immediate thought. Is OP struggling with this because it’s truly out of character for the girlfriend and therefore really jarring? Or is it because this situation is the aha moment for realizing girlfriend is actually a jerk in lots of other areas?

    5. Sarah*

      I thought this too…the conversation as relayed seemed kind of jerky to me, but also the sort of thing I would give my SO the benefit of the doubt on because he is unfailingly kind in all other areas of life. Like, I would probably assume the person he was talking to had legitimately fucked up, and he had just reached some one-time breaking point of frustration (which can happen to the best of us).

      For overhearing this one interaction to cause someone to lose attraction to their SO and suddenly be totally questioning the relationship seems a little over-the-top if it’s literally the only thing — but makes sense in the context of the LW thinking this is one thing in a pattern of disrespectful/jerky behavior across a variety of contexts, including within their relationship. If hearing this just gave you some outside perspective of “Oh shit, that’s how she talks to ME” or “Wait, that’s the tone she uses when we discuss my mom” or something, I think that’s totally valid. If this is literally the only incident you’ve ever heard your partner be a jerk to someone…well, we all have bad days and I wouldn’t read too much into it.

    6. M-C*

      +1. If this is part of a pattern, OP is right to be disturbed. Maybe this is still a honeymoon period where the SO is still sparing her the brunt of that bad behavior. But in my experience it’s only a matter of time before OP gets the same treatment…

      1. Specialk9*

        Yes!! This is an excellent point. OP could be reading way too much into this due to emotional baggage. Or this was a moment of clarity, of having all these little sharp tones and rudenesses congeal into this certainty of “oh she’s a jerk!” when OP saw it applied to someone else. Dunno which, sounds like some work (maybe with a therapist) to work through what is your filter and what’s the girlfriend.

        1. fposte*

          This is a really good way to phrase it. The OP is talking about her med school experience but her previous Beverly experience may be significant here as well.

  6. Lilo*

    I think it is really impossible for us to judge the tone of the call from what is presented here, but I really think OP should stay out of it.

    OP has no real context for the history here and while it may seem like Deanna is getting upset, I had a trainee who would respond to any feedback by getting upset or saying he was useless and I know it made managing him extremely difficult (He ended up quitting to avoid being fired for quality issues, he never incorporated edits or learned despite us tryon as hard as we could to help him).

    Your girlfriend should really not be having those phone conversations around you because it is inappropriate, but that is another issue.

      1. Lilo*

        All we have is one “yeah” and a statement that she was hard on her when she apparently disregarded specific instructions. The yeah is not enough and sometimes being hard on someone who is making repeated mistakes can be necessary if less criticism had not worked in the past. There is nothing clear here.

        1. Mike C.*

          I trust the OP when she says that it was concerning. It was directly compared to her own first/second hand experiences working in a hospital with doctors who, in her words, “range from verbal abuse to violence and sexual impropriety … I recognized the tone of Deanna’s voice: the powerlessness, the knowledge you’re about to be trashed for an honest mistake, and the fear that another wrong move will ruin your career.”

          The Office Space thing was a throw away example compared to what I quoted above. That sort of tone is something I find concerning and likely inappropriate.

          1. LadyL*

            Sometimes people say things like “I recognized the tone of Deanna’s voice: the powerlessness, the knowledge you’re about to be trashed for an honest mistake, and the fear that another wrong move will ruin your career” because they have a high emotional IQ and are adept at assessing others emotional states, and sometimes people say things like that because they’re projecting. I’m not trying to be dismissive: I think that I’m often pretty good at reading people, but I’m also 100% guilty of projecting negative feelings on others when I’m stressed and anxious, which is sounds like the LW is (stressed, I mean).

            I think the point is, we don’t really know. We don’t know Deanna’s work or attitude, we don’t know Beverly’s managerial style or tone, we don’t know the LW’s reasonableness, we don’t know. So based off what LW has told us, it could definitely be that Beverly is a jerk, or it could be that she was having a bad day, or it could be that LW is feeling particularly sensitive and interpreting based on that, or it could be a combo of all those things. Which is why people are saying, talk to her about your concerns and see what she says. Weigh this against everything else you know about her. I don’t think any of us really has enough info to know for sure what kind of person Beverly is, or how her coworkers feel about her.

            1. Myrin*

              I’ve experienced that sometimes from the other side where people were like “There’s no need to be flustered/nervous!” and I’m caught totally off-guard because I wasn’t actually nervous at all. Or with my sister, who has clinically diagnosed anxiety and sometimes views my reaction to things the way she would react were she in my situation, which quite often misses the mark by about half the equator’s length.

              That being said (and not really related to your comment, LadyL, although I definitely agree with that): The OP was uncomfortable with what she witnessed. In fact, she was so uncomfortable with it that she doesn’t even feel attracted to her partner anymore. And I think it’s important to point out that that’s completely okay! Even if she talks to Beverly and finds out that it was a huge misunderstanding/that she was in a really bad mood that day and spoke atypically/that what she sayd is completely normal in her profession/whatever, it’s still okay for her to decide that the fact that she had this feeling in the first place means that she can’t be with Beverly anymore. It’s fine if she wants to break up, even if the situation turns out to be different from what it first seemed like.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              I agree about the many possible interpretations in play.

              My husband, who is the most laid back, helpful, “We need someone who can solve this and then train others: call Rising” guy in most professional and social contexts, is very hardcore and impatient in the midst of one competitive sport.

              1. LadyL*

                One of my favorite shows, Broad City, has a term for that (a nice laid back person becoming overwhelmingly intense and competitive in certain situations): going all caps.

                As in, Abbi is a chill fun stoner chick, but ABBI trash talked her opponents and beat her coworker in the face during an office sports event. When encountering an All Caps personality, try reminding them to be more “case-sensitive” ;)

          2. Yorick*

            I think people who have really messed up and are getting serious feedback based on that might have that same tone of voice, though.

            You’d still feel powerless, you might think you made a honest mistake even though you ignored specific feedback to not make a PowerPoint (!), and you do have to worry about your career when you mess up.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, I was thinking about that–it’s not automatically a bad thing that I feel awful when I’m being told that I screwed up. If I’m being told so nicely that I don’t feel my job is at risk, that’s a manager not doing her job. Deanna’s feelings are not a measure of Beverly’s inappropriateness.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                Yes, if you’re used to hearing that tone of voice for “Why didn’t you psychically intuit that the rules were secretly different on this? You moron!” then the tone is likely to be a cringe-into-ball trigger even if the content is justified criticism.

                Like, as a parent there can be an understandable change in tone from the first “Do not leave your used kleenex in a pile on the couch for other people to clean up” and the 40th. But if you live with a parent who melts down over everything as a first response, hearing your friend’s parent yell to PICK UP YOUR USED KLEENEX is awful, even if the message and tone are understandable in some safe abstraction.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Along with Yorick’s note, this is a really helpful way of framing it. Regardless of the tone, it sounds like this experience triggered something for OP.

                Whether what was triggered was OP’s feelings re: prior work experiences, or OP’s more latent feelings re: Beverly’s behavior, etc., the measure of inappropriateness is probably better measured by how OP is responding than by how Deanna responded.

          3. Someone else*

            It’s not that I don’t trust OP saying it was concerning, but an element of the letter was literally “am I overreacting?” so to approach the scenario from a perspective of “you said it was concerning therefore it 100% is”, I think, is not the most helpful thing to do. From several people’s reading of the letter, with us not being able to personally hear the tone, there’s room for it to have been an appropriate, albeit visibly irritated, response to an employee directly ignoring instructions, all the way up to the girlfriend being an entirely dismissive jerk, and some wiggle room for something in between. We’ve got OP’s description of the tone, but that doesn’t really help us because we can’t hear it to weigh in. We only the have the words. We know OP was bothered by it, that’s why they wrote in, so of course they found the tone harsh. But we might’ve heard the same thing and not thought so. Either way OP needs to talk to the girlfriend, but I think the possibility remains that it might not have been as bad OP took it to be. Or it might have.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          It seems like the two were really ganging up on Deanna to me though. Shouldn’t they have just either talked tonher afterwards or shut it down in the beginning like “i see you did the power point mock up and not the final draft I asked you to present today. Let’s reschedule “.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            We are many layers removed from having any idea how reasonable that was. So is OP, really, but us even moreso.

      2. Cobol*

        If this had been going on for months, and if there was softer corrective issues prior to the call, pointed and direct feedback would be appropriate.

      3. LBK*

        I mean, if you overheard some of the calls I’ve been having lately I probably sound like an asshole, but there’s only so much patience you can have for people that are screwing up critical systems on a highly sensitive project with tight deadlines. I don’t think I’m mean but I am pretty direct in these situations, and that might come across as being a jerk without understanding the context of a) how truly egregious these issues are and b) the fact that this is a culmination of months of softer conversations that have now built up to the point that I don’t have time to mince words anymore.

    1. Snark*

      The thing is, though, no matter how crappy of an employee Deanna is – and she sounds Not Great – beating up on her is not a thing to do. No matter how frustrated you are, cutting sarcasm and berating is not the way to manage a person.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Of course. But we don’t know whether or not that was what happened.

        I’m worried the comments on this post are going to do that thing where people decide it’s definitely X or definitely X (often based on their own experiences) even though there’s really no way for us to know which it is. It’s okay to acknowledge ambiguity!

        1. Snark*

          That’s fair. And as you point out, the same thing could be happening with OP and his experiences. But I think OP’s reaction, and the few specifics he gives, tips me towards thinking there’s at least some cause for concern about her management style.

        2. fposte*

          As the OP herself admits, that may be what she’s doing. It also sounds like she’s making a lot of judgments based on how Deanna responded, not just on what her SO said.

      2. Reinhardt*

        Cutting sarcasm is quite cathartic in the right situation though, like venting later with non co-worker friends.

      3. Lilo*

        That is what is bugging me. There was no mention of sarcasm or berating in the letter, but that her suggestions were snapped down. But we don’t know if this is because she was repeating suggestions that had already been dismissed.

        I think people are putting stuff not in the letter in here based on their own experiences. I have had bad berating managers, but I have also had to deliver a harsh clear “you need to take my comments seriously if you want to keep your job” conversation, and past context can be everything.

        1. Falling Diphthong*


          “I’ve told you multiple times to not do A, B, or C in these presentations. And you have done A throughout.”
          *meekly* “Oh. How about if I did B instead?”

          Now it’s not great that the manager used an exclamation mark at the end there, but it’s a lot more understandable than if this is the first time they have expressed that by “presentation” they secretly mean “without A, B, or C, even though those are common.”

      4. fposte*

        There’s no evidence of cutting sarcasm in the letter, though. If it’s the Office Space thing, a slow “Yeah” is a common noise people make that is hardly inherently sarcastic; even the OP doesn’t seem to be claiming this was a sassy movie quote.

        I think it’s absolutely possible that Beverly could have handled a poorly performing subordinate better–what strikes me here is not the nature of the comments but the frequency and duration, and I think, assuming this wasn’t just a couple of minutes, at some point it would make sense just to say “This isn’t what we told you to do, and that’s a big problem. Let’s stop right here.” But this could also be an example of letting somebody face the consequences they’ve been warned about.

        And, of course, the OP doesn’t have to stay with Beverly either way.

      5. LBK*

        The examples the OP gave don’t really sound like berating to me, and I’m not sure I agree with the OP’s characterization that asking these questions is ripping into someone:

        Why didn’t she do this? Wasn’t this her responsibility? This shouldn’t be happening.

        If you’re discussing a sensitive project, those are valid questions. Maybe you should try to temper your tone when you ask them, but I have been asking questions like this on calls lately to try to drive home the critical nature of the work that I’m asking from people. I want to leave zero ambiguity about how unacceptable these issues are.

        Like Alison says, I think this is all about the lens through which you’re perceiving the conversation. I think the OP characterizes it one way because the context of similar conversations where she has the full story is particularly harsh, but from my perspective, being direct about sensitive issues can be important and necessary.

        The main point is that in order for the OP to conclude that her SO is being a jerk, she’s working under the assumption that those comments weren’t warranted, and I don’t think that’s something she could know.

        1. JessaB*

          I think those that are asking whether the OP is worried about how the partner will act with them are telling. It’s odd to go to an advice blog about something like this if it didn’t flip some kind of switch that said “whoa.” This is a single incident, yet the OP felt it warranted asking Alison whether this was good management. That leads me to believe that other things are going on. Most people who know someone who is generally nice don’t ask for second opinions on something like this.

          Either they ignore it as out of character, or in the moment when the phone is hung up (and this must have been a speaker phone call to hear the employee response,) or they go right away “Whoa harsh there, seriously not like you, do you realise how you sounded?” And the OP didn’t want to do this, without stepping back, getting distance and asking for an outside look in.

          There are flags here, and they’re red is all I’m saying.

          1. fposte*

            There’s a reaction here, anyway; I don’t think the information is enough to provide flags, just question marks. None of the specifics of Beverly’s behavior make it inherently problematic, and the OP is somebody who’s been really affected by bad associations with management and is likely going to default to seeing through that lens. Which doesn’t mean Beverly was for sure great with Deanna, but it’s perfectly common (as discussed in our reaction to comments, in fact) for a response to be based on your previous experience with a behavior, even if you don’t know what that behavior implies in *this* context.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I mean, OP does not have to prove Beverly is bullying Deanna to break up with her. And it might help OP to separate the two issues, because they really are different problems to tackle.

            Sometimes these situations are red flags, and sometimes they’re not flags on the play—they’re flags that make you slow down and check your tires. Regardless which kind of flag OP is noticing, it sounds like OP needs to make a personal assessment whether they (a) want to break up with Beverly, anyway, or (b) want to address key issues that are bothering them and that were brought to light by this incident.

    2. Anony*

      I think it is valid for the OP to bring up that they overheard this interaction and how it changed their perception of their SO. It sounds like the OP was really bothered by it. Doing something to interfere with a business interaction would be out of line, but this has to do with their personal relationship. Possibly Beverly needs to keep business interactions out of earshot of the OP or modulate her tone, but that is not an unreasonable thing to talk about.

      1. JulieBulie*

        Right! This really doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not Deanna’s presentation sucked. This is about OP worrying that Beverly might have a mean streak, which could jeopardize the relationship.

        1. LBK*

          But I don’t think you can judge whether the Beverly was just being mean or if she was maybe being a little fiery but otherwise making valid comments without knowing whether Deanna’s presentation sucked or not. A manager giving an employee harsh feedback is not mean, it’s sometimes part of their job.

          1. KHB*

            We don’t have the information to judge, because none of us were there. But the OP was there, and the OP can talk with Beverly, who was also there, to get a better sense of what went on and why.

            Also, the OP is allowed to break up with Beverly, if it comes to that, without having to find her objectively guilty of meanness beyond a reasonable doubt.

            1. LBK*

              I agree with all of that. I took Julie’s comment to mean that *to the OP*, it shouldn’t matter whether Deanna’s presentation sucked or not, but if the OP does have an interest in trying to understand what was going on with this conversation, that’s relevant information. As you say, though, breakups don’t have to be litigated – if you feel uncomfortable, you’re always free to leave.

          2. JulieBulie*

            I’m not judging whether Beverly was being mean. I’m saying that OP is worried that Beverly might be mean. OP interpreted the interaction as mean and does not find it attractive. OP needs to discuss with Beverly to understand whether or not it really was what it sounded like, and if it’s typical of how Beverly treats her subordinates.

            1. LBK*

              That makes sense – I was writing my follow up comment while you posted this, I think I just misinterpreted what you meant but I’m on the same page now.

      2. KHB*

        Agreed. This isn’t about deciding whether Beverly is a good boss or a bad boss – this is about the OP processing these feelings about their relationship.

        Both Beverly and the OP are imperfect human beings (as are we all), not robots. Beverly might not have conveyed her criticism of Deanna quite as well as she could have. And the OP might be reading too much into it – especially in light of their own experiences with abusive bosses in the workplace.

        It’s not fair to either Beverly or the OP for the OP to keep their feelings bottled up and to keep going through the motions in a relationship with someone they’re not attracted to. So the thing to do is to talk it through until they reach a conclusion: Either the OP decides that they can get over this, or else they decide that it really is a deal-breaker for the relationship and they go their separate ways.

        1. CM*

          I think it will be tricky for the OP to communicate this to Beverly — that the OP isn’t trying to get into a conversation about Beverly’s management style and whether it was appropriate in this situation, but that the overheard conversation triggered larger concerns for the OP about the relationship. I can easily imagine Beverly feeling like, “It’s none of your business what I do at work,” and missing the point. If I were the OP, I would be explicit about that and say something like, “I don’t mean to criticize your management style and I don’t know the situation with Deanna. But I couldn’t help hearing the tone you used, and it really reminded me of how abusive people can be at the hospital. I’ve been feeling shaken by that ever since overhearing that conversation.”

          And now that I think of it, I’m not really sure where this conversation would lead. How is Beverly supposed to respond? I guess it’s still worth airing, but I wouldn’t really expect anything to come from this conversation. I would just be watching to see how Beverly treats people — family members, strangers, people in the service industry, etc.

    3. Naomi*

      OP may not know the context, and it’s not on them to solve the work issues here. But they can’t un-hear whatever they heard Beverly say, and the way they interpreted it is clearly affecting their perception of Beverly. The healthy thing for OP to do is talk to Beverly about that part, rather than silently let their misgivings stew.

      1. Lilo*

        He can ask, but he should definitely not approach it as “you were wrong”. I would be unhappy if my significant other, without context, tried to correct my management like that. He can ask questions and be prepared to listen, but going in as “I didn’t like how you handled that” is not likely to go well. “Why were you hard on her” would be better if e wants to be direct.

        1. KHB*

          Fortunately, it sounds like the OP already has a pretty good handle on why this is bothering them so much – because it sounded so much like the abuse they’ve witnessed in the hospital – which makes for a good non-accusatory way to approach the subject.

    4. WM*

      I don’t think OP can reasonably stay out of it now. From what they say (and the title of their e-mail!!) it sounds as if this has tainted their relationship. If they stay out of it then I think they either have to put up & shut up or leave the relationship.

      That’s why I think they have to talk to Beverly about it. Be open and non-accusatory, explain what they’re bringing here from their own background in the hospital and how that’s colouring their perspective. Maybe Beverly will explain a wider context in which this is the exception, not the rule. Maybe she’ll recognise that she’s been too harsh. Maybe she’ll say that’s just how she is, and if OP isn’t comfortable with that, they have a real problem.

      In any case I think the worst outcome would be not talking about this and letting their feelings bottle up inside.

    5. INTP*

      I agree that OP should stay out of telling Beverly how to do her job (including how to speak to Deanna). Not because the conversation was justified, I don’t think we can know that from the information presented but it’s not really relevant anyways – because I don’t think it’s healthy in a relationship if partners are telling each other how to do their jobs (that the partners have zero experience in). I imagine the OP wouldn’t appreciate Beverly criticizing his medical judgment.

      But I also think that no matter whether the original topic is any of your business or not, if something is affecting how you feel about your partner in a way you can’t control, it has to be talked about. It should just be from a perspective of sharing your own feelings, not what the other person did wrong to make you feel them. I think the script in the answer focuses a little too much on Beverly’s actions and not enough on how OP feels about them.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree with this. I’m not really interested in management feedback from my SO, who doesn’t work in my industry, doesn’t have the facts of the situation (nor am I at liberty to fully discuss all aspects of my job to fill in the picture), and has no management experience at all. My SO thinks my workplace is insane and way too intense, but that’s really, really subjective – people who’ve come here from other firms tend to comment on the kinder, gentler culture of the place.

      I think that tone can be highly subjective, and we don’t know how much OP is bringing to the interpretation with their prior experiences versus not knowing what is normal in consulting. I work in legal, you have to have a thick skin, aptitude to learn quickly, and high personal standards for your own work to survive. At work, I’m considered nice, approachable, and fair in my provision of feedback. I am a volunteer with a student organization for one of my children, and I was told I was “too organized”, “too detailed/detail-oriented”, and “intimidating.” I swallow a lot of annoyance at the fact that none of them can ever send one email with all the information one needs to do something (basics like date, time, cost, location, and number of volunteers/kids needed), and they think I’m pedantic for including it.

      As an aside, Office Space is a huge thing on one of my team’s at work. One of my folks drew an amazing digital portrait of Milton and his red stapler, and I’m almost positive that our monthly status reports are jokingly called “TPS Reports” by the staff. I figured my boss and I would get along great when I called some consultants we had in, “The Bobs” and she cracked up. We would take, “Yeeeeaaahhhh…..” as a mood-lightener rather than as a jerky thing to say, but I know that’s not universal and wouldn’t use it if I wasn’t sure the context would be understood.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes. I was agog. Not I was trying to make other people more organized that *I* was too organized. Apparently, it “makes other people feel bad” because they’re not as organized. (I chuckle because I missed something MAJOR for one of my kids recently, so wasn’t feeling very organized at all when I was told this.)

          Honestly, I’m away from my house commuting/working for at least 12 hours a day, and, as I get older, I need at least 6 hours of sleep. That leaves 6 hours to do housework, homework, kids activities, and make sure I remember my SO’s name. If I don’t stay organized, stuff falls through the cracks.

  7. LadyL*

    My therapist once told me that no one “over-reacts” to things, it’s just that they’re reacting to things that aren’t immediately obvious (aka when someone who has experienced trauma has a crisis due to something innocuous to you, they’re not over-reacting to the car backfiring, they’re properly reacting to the past trauma). It sounds like you’re interpreting Beverly as over-reacting to these mistakes, but it may be that she’s reacting to a long history of Deanna’s mistakes/botched work. Maybe this client is a particularly nasty one who will tear all of them apart if this presentation isn’t bulletproof, and this is Beverly’s (not ideal) way of trying to protect the team. Basically, maybe there’s other stuff going on that Beverly is reacting to.

    Now, that doesn’t make it ok to snap at someone, obviously, but there’s a difference between “a cruel person who enjoys powertripping on subordinates” and “a decent person who lost it a bit and behaved inappropriately one time due to rising frustration”. I don’t know your girlfriend, maybe she’s the former, but if you don’t think this is part of a bigger pattern I think it’s ok to forgive her. I definitely think you should talk to her, like Allison suggested. Her answers will help you assess what category to put her in.

    1. selina kyle*

      I really like this way of thinking! I think that overreacting seems egregious but put into the context of “we don’t know the full situation; this could be the straw that broke the camel’s back” it makes more sense.

    2. BlueWolf*

      That’s a really interesting way of looking at it. Context is important, and in this case we don’t have the context to judge the situation fully (and neither does the OP really). That’s why Alison’s advice to discuss the conversation with Beverly is a good idea. Beverly may be able to provide additional context which would change OP’s understanding of the conversation.

    3. The IT Manager*

      I was actually thinking (given the extra context that the LW is “not attracted to her”) that the LW may actually be reacting to his own experience of being berated and talked down to.

      We certainly don’t have enough info to judge if Beverly’s actions were appropriate. The LW has more context, but he doesn’t either. He and his SO need to talk, but I think they need to talk about their own relationship and less about Beverly’s work relationship. If Beverley is mean and power tripping it probably is not only occurring at work and vice versa.

      1. LizB*

        All of this is exactly what I’ve been thinking. It sounds like the LW has some work-related trauma of their own (which wouldn’t surprise me based on their description of their field) and this overheard conversation triggered a reaction based on that. They shouldn’t try to get involved in their SO’s work situation for a number of reasons, but they absolutely need to deal with the tension this has created in their personal relationship.

    4. Safetykats*

      I like your therapist. I have a specific reaction to this particular OP and his question, because my brother-in-law is a (self-reported) nasty boss. And while he has always been perfectly nice to me, I see that side of him more and more in his personal life, mostly directed at my niece and her friends. I’m sure that some people can bark and bite and work only, but I wouldnguess that for the majority of them you will eventually see this behavior in other relationships.

    5. RVA Cat*

      True. This also means the OP may not be overreacting to this particular conference call, but a pattern of kick-down behavior from Beverly similar to what he or she sees with the jerk doctors.

      1. LadyL*

        YUP! It could really go either way (or neither! or both ways!). LW’s gotta talk to Beverly, and do some of his/her own assessment of Beverly outside of this incident, and then see how it all stacks up.

  8. Katastrophreak*

    I’ve got to be missing something here. Every presentation I’ve given, whether in a consulting capacity or an underling capacity, has bern based on PowerPoint. Why is everyone upset about PowerPoint, or is that piece of information distracting from the major point that the content was wrong or inappropriate or incorrect?

    1. Snark*

      Well, if you’re specifically instructed to not use PPT, and you use it anyway, then that’s completely ignoring direction.

    2. KarenT*

      There isn’t something inherently wrong with doing it in PowerPoint. The issue is that Beverly instructed Deanna not to do a PowerPoint, and she did one anyway.

    3. Leatherwings*

      Well the thing about the powerpoint is that Beverly indicated it clearly wasn’t an appropriate tool in this instance. So it’s more a case of ignoring direct instructions than it is about the specific tool that it was used.

    4. JulieBulie*

      They had asked for an executable plan. I’m not sure exactly what that is, but it sounds more like a demo than a slideshow.

      1. Reinhardt*

        The .exe file that runs or installs a program in Windows is called an executable. That’s what I pictured in my head when I read the letter

        1. JulieBulie*

          Me too (thus the demo), but I think Squeeble below is probably right. They wanted a fully developed plan that’s ready to deploy. Sounds like Deanna threw together a slide deck in ten minutes instead.

    5. Squeeble*

      My thinking is that it’s less about the specific software and more about the depth of the work. Beverly may have said “don’t do a PowerPoint” because she didn’t want, like, ten slides with bullet points–she wanted an in-depth, substantial plan with a long strategic section and spreadsheets and evidence and who knows what else. I could be completely off-base but that was my sense of it.

      1. Observer*

        That’s what I would have expected in this context. And, if that’s correct, that is a HUUUUGE deal. It’s not just ignoring direct instructions, it totally misunderstanding what you need to do.

    6. Antilles*

      I’m guessing it’s not about “PowerPoint” as a tool, it’s about the inappropriate use of it.
      If ask for a project plan of our path forward, that’s exactly what I need. When we sit down to talk about the project plan, you can *use* PowerPoint as a presentation tool to highlight the important parts of your 10-page project plan rather than us leafing through the binder…but I’m still going to expect a document exists with detailed information on budget, timelines, contingencies, potential delays, and so on.

      1. KarenT*

        Exactly. And as long as Beverly was clear, I think it no PowerPoints can make sense. To put an example around it, every year my team creates a strategic roadmap for the next year. We present these to the executive committee. After executive approval, we present them to the project teams and other directly involved employees. Every year we create these strategy plans (approx 15 pages) and present the highlights with PowerPoints. Repeatedly, we would find that the project teams/employees would not read the plans in detail but rely on the presentations, often missing the level of detail provided in the plans which was creating issues. So this year, my boss decided no PowerPoints. We created our plans and shared out the larger document, and then reviewed it with the teams instead of doing the overview presentations. One of my co-workers didn’t like this approach, and did her presentation anyway. It was tone deaf at best, and I know my boss (and her’s above) was very unimpressed. And it’s not because the presentation was bad or even ineffective, it was because it was a direct order from her manager that was important in this context.

    7. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Members of the military, specially Brigadier General HR McMaster, have complained about PowerPoint because the format doesn’t allow for detailed plans and oversimplifies complex situations. This is why Beverly was upset, I bet.

      I’ve also heard it was somewhat to blame for the Challenger explosion because the presentation format wasn’t clear.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          Challenger did get green-lighted because of poor graphical presentation. It was just overhead projector slides, not Powerpoint. The root cause — poorly communicated information in a low-information density format — is pretty similar though. Edward Tufte’s analysis of the bad data presentation is a standard component of pretty much all modern engineering education. Tufte’s write up is in a book and I can’t find it online, but there are zillions of student papers regurgitating it. I’ll post a link to one in the next comment.

          1. Snark*

            I’d heard that, though personally I don’t think it was quiiiiiiite reducible to the presentation format. I just thought they were connecting that to the discussion of powerpoint above.

            And yes, huge Tufte fan here. I actually met him once. He said something like, “I’ll never fail to be amused at how many people thought my advice was to just make BETTER slides and tables.”

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I had a college professor who tried to teach a religion course entirely out of PowerPoint. It was a pretty dismal class and a huge disappointment.

      2. sumthing*

        The complaint concerning Challenger was that the graphics used were bad, not that graphics are inherently bad. None of the graphs in and of itself conveyed the information needed: that cold temperatures increased the risk of o-ring failure.

    8. Amber Rose*

      Most of the executable plans I’ve presented have been printed documents that I handed out and went over. PowerPoint is useful, but not always the best tool for the job. So I could see being told not to use it sometimes.

    9. Dankar*

      In my admittedly brief interning stint with a marketing and consulting firm, an executable plan was one which took into account various market factors, had a cost/benefit analysis, an in-depth write-up of how each step would be implemented, a timeline/budget, etc.

      I’m sure you could put all this info into a PPT, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what happened.

  9. Muriel Heslop*

    You have to talk to your girlfriend and work this out. I’m a teacher and I have colleagues who say things to kids and talk to kids in ways that I never would. Conversely, I know there are people who don’t always like the way I interact with my students. The commonality is that we all bring our own specific set of issues and feelings to the workplace. Please have a forthright discussion with your SO and I encourage you not to project your workplace experiences onto Beverly’s.

    Good luck!

  10. Antilles*

    Anyway, I do think you need to talk to Beverly about how unsettled the conversation made you feel.
    During this talk with Beverly, I’d also listen carefully to what Beverly says she’s done about it and/or how she’s worked with Deanna since then. Is she remorseful about going too far? Did she apologize to Deanna for the tone? Are they in a fine working relationship since?
    Look, ripping into someone in a moment of frustration isn’t right, but it is understandable. However, the appropriate follow-up is a next-day conversation when tempers have cooled where you admit that you went too far with the criticism and you’re sorry about that…but that you really do see X, Y, and Z as a big issue that needs to be addressed.

  11. Reinhardt*

    I appreciate the Star Trek TNG names, though it sounds like your girlfriend should be Worf instead of Beverly

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Haha, yep! Dr. Crusher was always pretty chill about stuff, but would get rightly ticked off when the situation warranted. (But maybe I’m biased, as she was my favorite character?)

    2. ST:TNG:OP*

      I wanted to keep the genders intact. If I wanted to go with unpleasant human being I guess I could have gone with Dr Pulaski. I also thought about bringing in all the female characters from all the other series but trying to figure out who would be Kathryn Janeway in who would be Seven of Nine became too ridiculous.

      1. Reinhardt*

        That makes sense. I hope it’s like others say and it’s just context you don’t have, things work out between you and Beverly, and your relationship can live long and prosper!

        1. Reinhardt*

          There was the V gesture emoji in there too, but I guess the comments system doesn’t allow them

    3. AnonAndOn*

      Deanna: “Beverly, my Betazoid senses tell me that you are upset that I used PowerPoint when you advised me not to.”

      1. ST:TNG:OP*

        Ever noticed how she could use her Betazoid senses across hundreds of kilometers of vacuum between ships?

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I know, right? I know it’s fiction, but jeez, a little logical consistency would have been nice.

  12. Half-Caf Latte*

    I know this isn’t precisely on-topic, but I wanted to share that there are hospitals that are actively working to change the culture in medicine.

    OP, since you mention that you are experiencing these things as a med student, know that not all hospitals tolerate rampant physician bad behavior, and if you are in a position to be choosy about where you go for internship/residency/fellowship, look for culture clues when you interview. Alison has tons of advice here, but one specific recommendation I can offer is to find a hospital working to implement the TeamSTEPPS program from AHRQ, which focuses on improving patient safety, but does so through improving communication and teamwork, and addressing the power dynamics that can lead “underlings” to feel unable to speak up.

  13. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    Alison, when you started this blog, did you know you would be giving all kinds of advice including relationship advice?

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Very admirable of you. Going out of your comfort zone and actually giving relationship advice. I have seen you do it in other post too.

        1. JessaB*

          I was gonna say that too. Definitely add the Captain. With a side of Suzanne Lucas at Evil HR Lady because sometimes she brings in a second eye and is awesome too. I know she and Alison have colabourated in the past because that’s how I found her.

        1. JessaB*

          Um sorry, can’t agree with Emily as Prudie, she had some serious issues with certain types of questions particularly ones about sex or LGBTQIA+ issues or trauma due to sexual assault.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Ditto. I way prefer Mallory over Emily, even if Mallory sometimes misses things in letters.

  14. Lily in NYC*

    All of my teammates come from hard-core management consulting firms like McKinsey and even though they are all nice people, they turn into scary monsters when it’s time to critique presentations – someone even used an app that mimicked the “shame bell” from Game of Thrones and would use it every time someone made a mistake when presenting . Expectations are very high in the consulting world and a thick skin is needed to succeed. I know I’m generalizing and that there are exceptions, but consulting can be a cut-throat world.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      I was about to say something similar. Beverly and Tasha might have been especially harsh because a client would expect a confident and polished presentation. My managers would usually give me a heads up if they were going to role play as a demanding client (and no one has ever rung the bell of shame at me!), but meeting/presentation prep can get intense. The company won’t put a consultant in front of a client if she can’t represent them well.

    2. Kate*

      That sounds a lot worse than what the OP described. Asking someone why they didn’t do something and wasn’t it their responsibility really isn’t out of line for a manager. As Alison notes, we don’t really know her tone when delivering these comments, and it sounds understandable for Beverly to be frustrated if Deanna blatantly ignored instructions about what was expected at this presentation. A “shame bell” seems clearly designed to humiliate, but critical feedback isn’t inherently humiliating. I agree though that Beverly and Tasha’s reactions may have be exacerbated from knowing clients would have reacted poorly to the presentation.

      **As an aside, I’m appreciating the Star Trek:TNG references as I don’t have HBO and have never seen Game of Thrones**

      1. Lily in NYC*

        The shame bell thing was used in a joking manager to take the sting out of the criticism but we had one guy who took it very personally (not that I blame him – he was my favorite teammate). Our former boss was kind of tough – usually very nice but very demanding and she had very high expectations. She’s since been promoted and her replacement is an absolute gem and our critiques are much more civilized now.

  15. persimmon*

    Hmm. While not invalidating the experience OP has, I do think there is something about that original title (“and now I’m not attracted to her”) that should very much give him pause before he says anything about this. The fact is that it’s not her job to be attractive to her boyfriend while she’s doing her actual, work job (especially when assertiveness/aggression in women vs. men is often seen very differently)–and the default role of the boyfriend in controlling or giving unsolicited advice on her work should be zero. That said, true cruelty is a problem across life areas, even if it’s happening only at work. But I think he needs to start any conversation about this with a strong presumption that she knows her work and its context best, and be extra-conscious of his own motivations here.

    1. Maya Elena*

      It is true that OP has no standing to tell Beverly how to do her job, but he (?) DOES have standing to decide whether or not he can be a good partner to Beverly, marry her, etc. Given this purported side of her. For example, might Beverly rip into their kids in a similar way when they frustrate her?

      While we don’t have specifics and they should talk about it, it isn’t an illegitimate concern regarding their relationship.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Or even “will she rip into OP like that?” (especially if they haven’t been dating for very long and this was his first real view of her truly annoyed with something – I’d be worried too!).

    2. Rachael*

      I’m also wondering if this is a case of: “I don’t like to see my partner in that type of role”.
      Some people do not like to see their “nice”, “laidback”, (or whatever they think their partner is) take a role in where they are the boss. They may worry that type of personality will leech into their personal relationship if they aren’t used to seeing that side of a person.

    3. ST:TNG:OP*

      OP here. I need to bring this correction up over here to prevent it from spiraling into something it’s not. My girlfriend and I are both female. I enjoy it when she is aggressive and confident in her job. I enjoy it when she’s not those things too.

      1. Huntington*

        Thank you. I took it from the letter that this was likely the case. The forum has a bad habit of jumping on posters immediately.

        1. Lissa*

          Yeah, but this really wasn’t “jumping on”, in fact I think persimmon was super diplomatic about how they phrased that potential concern, and allowed for other possibilities.

    4. Jesmlet*

      There’s nothing wrong with saying “I saw a different side of my significant other’s personality that I find off-putting”. It shouldn’t matter if it happened at work, at a restaurant, at an amusement park, etc. I too assumed this was a heterosexual relationship (sorry!) but we shouldn’t always jump to the conclusion that there’s something more subconscious going on regardless of what the gender makeup of a couple is.

    5. Natalie*

      OP has clarified that they are both female, but even if this was a cishet couple I don’t see how this is helpful. “My partner behaved a certain way in front of me and I have feelings about it” is not automatically making something your partner’s job that it shouldn’t be, or underminding women in the workplace, or being controlling. Those are all enormous leaps.

    6. Elizabeth*

      That part made my shoulders go up around my ears too. It really made me question the OP’s motivations here. And also his interpretation. It sounds like to me he is taking his own feelings about things that sometimes happen in hospitals, applying that to a one way overheard phone conversation. And also that he has some ideas about how his girlfriend should be behaving at work.

      I am trying to imagine a scenario where I would interfere in this way with my partner without being asked and coming up empty. And I know a lot more about his office life and industry that OP seems to know about his girlfriend. It feels really weird for a partner to interfere on behalf of someone they don’t know for a situation they don’t understand. It is also weird to me that he seems to discount what his girlfriend says about why she was so frustrated.

      1. Jesmlet*

        If I thought my SO sounded like an asshole during a work conversation, I wouldn’t just ignore it. I’d probably just ask them about it nonchalantly to see if there’s was more going on that I was missing, even if it was just to let them vent, or to suggest another way of solving what is clearly a problem. There’s no work environment in which it’s appropriate to be mean or rude to subordinates, regardless of industry standards and norms.

        1. Elizabeth*

          I just didn’t read meanness into it at all. It just seems so strange.

          And I just think it is weird to be involved with my partner’s work life that way. Like helicopter parenting. It might really vary by relationship.

          I mean my partner really hates how I handle this one situation at work (that I have voluntarily talked to him about) but I would think it was strange and trust him a lot less if he was like “well I am just less attracted to you now because you are not acting how I think you should”

          1. Jesmlet*

            I’m taking OP at her word that there was something in that conversation that genuinely bothered her –
            her feelings are what matter in this situation.

            That would be a weird sentence to say, but I don’t think the feeling behind it is all that alien. If my significant other was mean to a waiter, I’d say something because even if they spilled food or forgot something, rudeness is just not something I’m attracted to in any context. Would it be so weird if the SO just said, “maybe consider it from this perspective instead?” You may know a lot more about the situation, but sometimes an outside perspective can provide clarity.

            1. fposte*

              I think it’s time for a question, though, not unsolicited advice. So far we’ve not heard that Beverly was rude. She was tough, but her responses as stated were all very managerially appropriate, not insulting or personal. I think I would go for “Beverly, I was startled when I heard your treatment of Deanna. Because of my med school experience, I have a negative reaction to management that sounds similar–can you talk me through ways that it might be a different thing here?”

              1. Jesmlet*

                Yes, agreed, if I was starting this conversation, I would definitely lead with a question. If I did ultimately still feel like she should have done it differently, then I’d try playing devil’s advocate for her.

          2. ZVA*

            I don’t think OP is involved in her partner’s work life, though. I think she heard something that troubled her and it’s led her to view her partner differently than she did before. If I heard a partner speaking to a subordinate in what I viewed as an abusive way, it would probably give me pause, too. Sure, she may not have the whole story — but that’s why I would advise her, as Alison did, to try and learn more! I don’t think she’s trying to dictate how her partner “should” behave; I think she’s just bothered by what she heard and trying to come to terms with it, which is understandable to me.

          3. Delphine*

            I’m guessing the OP knows her girlfriend well enough to understand when her tone is mean and when it’s simply authoritative.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, and the OP never says her tone was mean, so maybe that’s significant as well. It’s only Deanna’s tone that gets observed.

    7. Tobias Funke*

      See, I’m not reading this as him being angry she isn’t wearing a Sexy Consultant halloween costume. I am reading it as, my trauma has been triggered and I don’t know where to go from here.

      And I am usually the first person to call out gross M/F dynamics. But this sounds different to me.

        1. Tobias Funke*

          My apologies! I did not catch that. Yeah, definitely not reading this as “my girlfriend isn’t properly ornamental and it hurts my delicate feelings” situation.

  16. Leatherwings*

    I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of criticism/feedback. It feels terrible, but to be honest I deserved it and appreciated the directness in the long run. It made it clear that my work was a BIG screwup and I needed to get it together, which I did. I’m obviously not sure if the tone was warranted in this situation, but I think sometimes a stern/frustrated tone can be necessary and even productive. It’s possible it crossed the line, but I also think it’s possible that it didn’t, so something to keep in mind.

  17. MuseumChick*

    Is it possible that Deanna has been given multiple chances? After I’ve gone over issues with someone and given explicit in instructions (“don’t do a powerpoint”) and them the person does not improve AND disregards the instructions my frustration is very difficult to keep in place. I can think one one instance where if someone had heard my conversation with co-worker totally out of context I would have sounded like a jerk. But in context it would make perfect sense.

    1. LKW*

      This is what I was thinking. I work in consulting and this conversation doesn’t seem outrageous to me. Personal criticism is never appropriate but explaining that someone is responsible and that they didn’t meet their obligation is totally acceptable. If I’ve had this conversation multiple times already, I expect my tone would indicate that my patience is running out.

      I expect I might have to repeat something, but I shouldn’t have to repeat it multiple times. If I ask for an excel and I get a powerpoint, I’m going to be irked, one because directions were ignored, but two because the rework time required to take that information and populate it into excel could be significant.

      I try to make my teams a safe space to learn, but that requires listening to direction, doing the work expected and following through on feedback. If I don’t get quality out of the person, I’m going to be direct in that they haven’t met my expectations and I would likely be speaking to some internal folks about either moving them off of the project, getting them additional coaching or managing them out of the company.

  18. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I can appreciate where you’re coming from but…

    The POV you need here isn’t one of a subordinate (yours) but one of a manager’s (Beverly). Have you ever been put in charge of direct reports and important projects? Have you ever been made accountable for the productivity and accuracy of others? Have you ever supervised employees who do not do what is requested of them even after multiple explanations? Do you have any idea what it’s like to be criticized by higher ups when your direct reports fall down on the job? How would you like your career to be damaged because the people you supervise repeatedly disregard your instructions?

    Not only do you need to rethink your POV here, but you also needed to reassess what a legitimate “honest mistake” is. A honest mistake is forgetting to covert a Word doc to a PDF; a honest mistake is NOT disobeying clear instructions nor is it disregarding critical role responsibilities. And, yes, another wrong move should hurt your career if you’re not doing very well in that job overall. These aren’t one time, stand alone mistakes. Even you admit that.

    Work isn’t a charity. Managers aren’t babysitters.

    I like that you’re a med student, though, because I can totally see why someone in your position would be ripped to shreds for a mistake. You’re literally working in cases of life and death. You should be held to atmospherically high standards. That’s what distinguishes an average doctor from the cream of the crop. If you think your superiors are harsh now, you should try to imagine what a mortality review or top rate malpractice attorney will do to you after you become a doctor and you screw up.

    (There is no excuse for sexual impropriety though. That’s totally different from what you’re talking about.)

    You do need some empathy here but for Beverly, not Deanna. I think that until you’ve gone through all the scenarios I mentioned in my second paragraph, it’s very hard to judge a manager in situations like these.

    1. Alice*

      Actually, ripping people to shreds is demonstated to reduce, not improve, patient safety. Especially during training, it’s almost never appropriate to blame an individual rather than a larger system/poorly designed checklist/lack of practice guidelines. Blaming the individual and tipping her to shreds is a great way to encourage people to start hiding mistakes so that they snowball.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        But the original complaints weren’t about system-wide issues or bad practices*. This was about Deanna herself making repeated mistakes and ignoring explicit instructions. Those are pretty bad behaviors that need to be rectified. I get that frustration isn’t ideal in the workplace, but I also get the impression Beverly and Tasha have been working with Deanna for awhile.

        *Unless those are present here. Then of course my answer would change.

    2. WM*

      I’m not sure whether we have drastically different interpretations of “ripping someone to shreds” or of effective management technique.

      I’m imagining “ripping someone to shreds” as a Malcolm-Tucker style bollocking, a personalised attack delivered at peak volume. If you think it’s more like, a stern, honest talking to where you outline how someone’s actions have fallen short in a calm and measured tone, I understand agree. Otherwise, though, I just think that this kind of behaviour only serves to vent the manager’s frustrations and demean the employee.

      Being a manager does mean taking responsibility for your direct reports. You should get in trouble for their failures because they are your failure to manage (although in the same way, I don’t think managers should be torn apart by their own bosses either!) If you don’t trust an employee not to make the kind of failures that reflect terribly on you, you need to let them go.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I thought the OP’s assessment of “ripping to shreds” was Beverly asking legitimate questions.

        I don’t think that it is, but I didn’t want to get into that because that wasn’t the point.

    3. redacted for this one*

      I see what you mean, but I also think it’s really common for “high standards and accountability” to be a way to shut down complaints about demeaning treatment, whether the treatment is effective in enforcing high standards or not. Standards and accountability can exist without subordinates being constantly shat on, but demeaning treatment often gets normalized and elided into “rigorous work environment” in certain industries, medicine being one of them. I don’t think sexual impropriety is totally different from what OP is talking about, I think it exists on a continuum of inappropriate workplace behavior, where verbal abuse definitely has a place.

    4. Jesmlet*

      There’s no good reason to be a mean manager. There are a million and one ways to make a point without belittling someone and tone is a big part of that. It seems like Deanna clearly did a poor job, but the way a manager communicates that can make all the difference between her improving and her not. Taking turns ripping into someone at every pause is not constructive. Of course, we have to rely on OP’s assessment that they were ripping into her and snapping at her rather than providing well-deserved criticisms in a pointed yet not unkind way.

      I have had to give this type of criticism before and it can be frustrating telling the same person the same stuff over and over, but there’s no justification for letting that frustration manifest in any type of derogatory tone or behavior. I believe in teaching, not lecturing. Is it possible that OP read the interaction incorrectly or is exaggerating? Sure. But there’s no point commenting based on that assumption.

    5. ST:TNG:OP*

      I’m going to give you an example of what it means to be ripped to shreds as a medical student and you and I can see if it’s warranted or not. During my Obstetrics & Gynecology rotation, I would not learn about which surgeries I would be performing until that day and might not be able to do more than learn about the case and general procedure before walking into the room.

      One day I was paired with a surgeon for a hysterectomy. I had never done this procedure and told the doctor that. He wanted me to do a particular task and I said I had never done that task before. I had only done something vaguely similar during a surgery on a totally different organ six month prior. I said I was happy to learn and take instruction. He sat me down and began the surgery. I did not receive any instructions beyond Up is Down and Left is Right, the general reminder when doing laparoscopy.

      For the next 45 minutes he spent the surgery yelling at me about how incompetent and terrible I was. He accused me of endangering the patient and paused the surgery so he could pull a resident from a different floor to come in and substitute for me.

      In other words, I told him I did not know that I am doing and rather than teach me, he gave me a task I wasn’t qualified for and then trashed me when I couldn’t do it. Do you believe this improved patient outcomes? Do you think this contributed to my learning? Do you think I took away anything from that day other than to recognize a combination of my own worthlessness as a human being and his mediocrity as surgeon?

      I have seen something go wrong in a surgery that was both incredibly dangerous and incredibly preventable. The surgeon in charge did not raise his voice. He was frustrated but nobody was called incompetent and nobody was made to feel like a bad person. Mistakes were pointed out and corrected as they should have been.

      I don’t know how much you enjoy being in a position of no power when a single word can destroy the rest of your career. I don’t know how well you work under pressure. Maybe you’re the kind of person who thinks the students who kill themselves every year are thinning the herd. From the career I held before medicine I can say you can educate without being nasty. Maybe you don’t believe that.

      I’ll toss in one of my favorite articles on how being mean to doctors and nurses tends to make them perform less well.


      1. LBK*

        And to be clear, your girlfriend spoke to her employee the same way this surgeon spoke to you?

        Maybe you’re the kind of person who thinks the students who kill themselves every year are thinning the herd.

        Snarkus’ comment is pretty harsh, but this is a wildly unkind characterization of it…

          1. serenity*

            Agreed. For some reason, this seems to be the snippiest comments section I’ve seen on AAM in a while.

            1. Female*

              Snarkus’s comment basically said OP’s abuse was justified because she’s a medical student. It’s not (and in fact many medical schools actively discourage this and promote more supportive cultures because there is evidence this is harmful to clinical care and education), and saying that OP deserves abuse for their choice of industry sounds awfully similar to victim-blaming.

              1. fposte*

                Snarkus’ comment definitely went pretty far, but a response suggesting she gloried in suicide went a lot farther.

      2. Jesmlet*

        Totally agree with your assessment of your analogies. There’s a right way to communicate that message and to teach and that was not it. You don’t need to have been a manager before in order to objectively assess someone’s treatment of another person. Yelling will almost never result in better patient outcomes, most humans just don’t respond well to that. However, I do agree with LBK in that suggesting Snarkus is pro-suicide in any way is taking it too far. It’s frustrating when people don’t understand your point of view so it can be tempting to push something to an extreme to make your point but this doesn’t contribute to the conversation.

      3. Purplesaurus*

        Setting the issue of ripping apart med students aside, I think Snarkus has a good point about re-framing your POV and trying to empathize with Beverly. Maybe not even empathize, but giving her enough benefit of the doubt to at least ask her what’s up.

        1. LavaLamp*

          Actually I think the OP is reacting to this bit from Snarkus:

          ” I like that you’re a med student, though, because I can totally see why someone in your position would be ripped to shreds for a mistake. You’re literally working in cases of life and death. You should be held to atmospherically high standards. That’s what distinguishes an average doctor from the cream of the crop. If you think your superiors are harsh now, you should try to imagine what a mortality review or top rate malpractice attorney will do to you after you become a doctor and you screw up.”

          This is kind of an unkind thing to say to someone and I can see how the OP probably feels like Snarkus is saying it’s okay to abuse med students.

          1. Purplesaurus*

            Yes, I realize that’s what OP is reacting to, but that’s the only part she reacted to (and I’m not judging her for it). That’s why I suggested setting that part aside while considering the helpful part of Snarkus’ comment.

            1. ST:TNG:OP*

              Ironically, so many other people said what Snarkus has said without throwing in how it was appropriate for me to be abused that I felt I could ignore the rest of that comment. I cannot tell you how mild my mistreatment has been. The things I have seen said and done to people who are doing their best and often doing what they were told/taught would make most of the commenters in this column begin drinking.

              We are here to learn. Many of us don’t know we’re making mistakes until they are pointed out. We need teaching. We need correcting. It’s not always possible to do it in a kind way. But it doesn’t need to be abusive.

      4. palomar*

        Oof. I get that you feel attacked, but… while Snarkus’s post was couched in language that isn’t very gentle, I think it’s fair to say that they do have a valid point in that this is a very high stress, high stakes discipline, and that sometimes harsh speech is going to happen (ESPECIALLY if a patient has been endangered, I’m not sure where you’re based but I imagine malpractice is a component of law pretty much everywhere). I really don’t think that Snarkus was trying to abuse you. To insinuate that Snarkus thinks suicide is a good thing is… yikes, friend. Again, I get it. You felt attacked, so you launched a nasty counteroffensive. But you leaped to a really ugly conclusion here that’s not supported by Snarkus’s post, and it makes me think that that might be a typical way that you react when you hear things you perceive as abusive. You mentioned elsewhere that hearing Beverly’s phone call made you feel triggered… is this your trigger reaction?

      5. Observer*

        That is indeed abusive, and utterly useless. But did your GF really talk that way to Deanna? Nothing you have described in the original letter or the update you posted sounds CLOSE to what you have described here.

        PS I agree that this incident shows the surgeon in a poor light as a surgeon, to say the least. I disagree that it says ANYTHING about your worth as a human being, although I can see why it felt like it.

    6. M-C*

      Snarkus is being a condescending, pompous ass here, and deserves to be reminded that abuse of med students, of all medical personnel really, is a cause of much real (potentially fatal) suffering for both students and patients. He’s also revealing his ignorance, as a med student should really be considered the equivalent of a manager in training, they’re often placed in a position of responsibility beyond what could be expected, which is a source of great stress.

      That said, my take on all this is that OP is in a very good position to recognize abuse when she sees it. And seeing your SO be abusive, even to someone else, is really, really disquieting for anyone. Some people might think that fending off abuse at work leaves you better prepared to resist it at home, but in fact it seems to have totally the opposite effect. There’s a normalizing effect that can lead to not recognizing how bad something has become in another context. And we all know that compartimentalization of bad behavior is a polite fiction, that sooner or later this same behavior will be applied at home.

      It’s very hard, OP, when you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, and know there’s no way you’ll have time to go trawling for a replacement, to even consider a breakup. Even just moving can be horrible to contemplate. But it sounds like you got a wakeup call here. Please be good to yourself and don’t ignore it. If this one-time bad behavior is reminding you of other times your partner has been less than respectful towards you, you do need to evaluate where this relationship is going. It’s better to be alone than to be treated like this, or even merely to have cause to worry about it. There are sane and kind people out there, you will find one :-).

      1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

        “That said, my take on all this is that OP is in a very good position to recognize abuse when she sees it.”

        But it’s a common cultural trope/misconception that people who have experienced abuse (and know the red flags to look for) are actually just “over sensitive” to anything that “looks like” abuse and shouldn’t be trusted to know what they’re talking about at all.

    7. Robin Sparkles*

      Everything you said that is reasonable and a good POV is getting diminished by this here:
      I like that you’re a med student, though, because I can totally see why someone in your position would be ripped to shreds for a mistake. You’re literally working in cases of life and death. You should be held to atmospherically high standards. That’s what distinguishes an average doctor from the cream of the crop. If you think your superiors are harsh now, you should try to imagine what a mortality review or top rate malpractice attorney will do to you after you become a doctor and you screw up.
      I work in quality improvement in a hospital and I can tell you that berating someone and yelling at them instead of training them is absolutely NOT the way to to hold someone to high standards. There is a way to distinguish the cream of the crop from the average doctor and there are far more professional ways of doing it.

  19. hbc*

    It sounds like Deanna objectively didn’t do a good job. If I said “No powerpoint” and got one, I’d be pretty ticked off. I think you need to take Beverly’s word on that, and explicitly say it if you bring up the subject again.

    What *is* worth exploring is if Beverly’s method of addressing the issues is a good one. Is Deanna going to be in front of a hostile audience and needs to be able to handle this kind of attack? Is there evidence that less aggressive feedback won’t be taken as seriously? If you go into it open to learning more about her side, she’ll probably be more open to hearing about your take.

  20. Partially Bigoted Zealots*

    > Well, the subject line of your email to me was “I heard my SO on a conference call and now I’m not attracted to her,” so I think you need to talk about it.

    Dude, if you want to break up with her break up with her but don’t find excuses to blame it on her. You gotta either address it or realize you don’t have the full story and let it go.

  21. Been there*

    Yeeeaahhh*, this letter should get some interesting responses.

    This is one I can see from all sides, and the short answer is talk to Beverly. Here’s the long answer.

    It’s really impossible to say what’s going on here based off of this letter/description alone. I’ve witnessed and been a part of all sorts of communications that someone observing wouldn’t be able to figure out why people reacted as they did, said the words they said, or sounded the way they did.

    The other thing I’m going to ask is how often do you hear Beverly in a work context? I know I sound different when I’m at work vs. when I’m off the clock. I (like most people) have a professional voice and a non-professional one, just as I’m sure you do when you’re in Doctor mode vs. hanging out with friends. It can be a little jarring to hear someone you know using their work voice and words when you aren’t used to hearing them. I’ve seen my husband go into ‘work mode’ and he seems like a whole different person.

    *Sorry couldn’t resist :)

    1. hbc*

      The “different person” thing is an interesting point. I worked for my neighbor’s company one summer, and at home he was just a big ol’ teddy bear. At work, his primary method of communicating displeasure with his employees seemed to be screaming obscenities at them. Everyone was begging me to stay because when I was around, he cut way back and at least kept it to his closed office, but I still heard some horrifying stuff.

      My neighbor isn’t two different people. He’s a guy who’s caring and sweet in a social context and vicious in a business context. You can try to avoid seeing a person in certain contexts, but you marry the whole person.

      1. Super Anon for This*

        Good point. I mention this down below, but the fact that your neighbor didn’t treat people this way when he knew it would get him in trouble, make people not want to spend time with him, tells me that he was aware of what he was doing on some level. Maybe he liked making people cower, maybe he thinks workers on a level below him are lower human beings too, and have to work their way up, who knows? But he *chose* to reign it in when you were around, which is really telling.

        This is something someone quoted from a book, wish I could remember it. Anyway they said “He doesn’t have an anger management problem. He controls his anger with the police, with his bosses, anywhere it could cause trouble for him. He chooses not to control his anger when he’s with you, because he knows you can’t do anything to him.”

    2. Purplesaurus*

      This is a good point. Work-mode and home-mode can be very different for some people. Maybe OP is used to hearing Beverly’s soft, schmoopy voice versus a more authoritative style, and I can understand how that difference would seem jarring. I also understand that OP wouldn’t be writing in for no good reason – something about the situation is doing OP a concern. But the best way to deal with that concern is to discuss it.

      (Fwiw, I don’t think your answer was long.)

      1. EddieSherbert*

        My SO has occasionally been thrown off by “Work Eddie” – he’s emailed me at work with something that needed a response ASAP and gotten a “work-mode” response. He’s learned to take it in stride (and I’ll often throw in a “sorry, work mode! Better response coming later” ending).

        But our communications tend to be very emoji/terms of endearment heavy, so it’d probably more drastic a “change” than most people would see.

  22. dr_silverware*

    Please do talk to your girlfriend about this! It’s always hard to get a peek into who someone is when they’re not with you; even our partners are unknowable in their entirety. Especially when that peek is troubling, it can be pretty unsettling. Who is this person you’ve attached yourself to? Are you seeing the true version, or is the real person the harsh one? Etc.

    Combine that with your experiences with harsh bosses in your workplace and BAM you have the emotional snarl you find yourself in. If it’s been a good relationship so far, you should absolutely go to your girlfriend sooner rather than later and just tell her about what you’re feeling. This kind of thing can fester if unspoken, and you want a chance to talk with your partner about your worries, your fears, what you value in your careers, what your lives outside your relationship are like.

    As Allison said, all it takes is: “I overheard you on this conference call and it freaked me out. Probably for x and y reasons. Can we talk about it?”

    1. KR*

      Yes! Please talk about this with your partner OP! I have learned valuable things about my husband by hearing how he talks about his work day, his feelings about his coworkers, his work, and subordinates, and how he likes to manage his subordinates. He has a unique situation as a middle manager because he’s in the military and there is only so much he can do to manager his employees and some unconventional norms in his workplace that wouldn’t fly in the non military space, and how he feels about these norms and how he incorporates them into his leadership style is very indicative of his personality and attitude towards people. Ask questions, listen well, and take this as an opportunity to learn more about your partner and self select out if it’s a deal breaker to you being close to this person long term.

  23. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    Without hearing the conversation, I can’t comment on whether the tone was warranted or not.

    However. LW – something sent your Spidey senses a-tingling. Maybe her tone truly was too harsh. Or, maybe, you’re viewing it too much through your lens and projecting into her tone. Could be both. Regardless, it’s upset you and that is reason enough to talk to your girlfriend. My only advice here, is to make sure you make the focus about you: how you feel, how it’s rattled you, etc. If you put it all on your girlfriend, it gives her the opportunity to be defensive and (potentially) blow off your concerns.

  24. Alice*

    I don’t understand the part about the subordinate producing a PPT after being specifically told not to. How does that happen?
    I mean, either there was complete insubordination (possible) or a misunderstanding of the instructions (communication problem). If it’s the former, I understand the boss’s frustration (though we’d all aim to keep our cool while dealing with it, possibly by managing the employee out). But if it’s the latter, it would be important to take a look at the organizational culture.

    1. Observer*

      Well, given everything else that the OP mentions – all of the times that Deanna was asked / told that she had missed something, and the fact that she created a PowerPoint rather than a real plan, and you have the real possibility the the issue is Deanna and her work.

    2. Mephyle*

      Here’s one way that happens. (I admit the probability here is low, but we all know this happens.)
      Boss: Why did you X? I told you not to X.
      Employee: [Umm, no you never did. I’m not a mindreader.] Sorry, I won’t do it again.

  25. redacted for this one*

    OP, it sounds like this is a lot about your own job-related anxieties, which you might want to address separately in addition to talking through it with your girlfriend. Most people would be bothered to learn their SO is a jerk to subordinates, but the detail you go into about your own situation makes me think it’s more than that. The presentation maybe sounded “reasonable, but not linguistically polished” to you, but you don’t have the context to know what the expectations were and how far short Deanna was falling (or not). “Trashed for an honest mistake” is telling phrasing to me – you have a history of being raked over the coals for honest mistakes, but you don’t actually know whether Deanna’s performance issues are, in fact, honest mistakes. Asking “why didn’t you do this” and “isn’t this your responsibility” are mortifying when you don’t have a solid answer, but they’re not really unfair questions to ask, in and of themselves. It really depends on how the questions were asked.

    It is totally possible that Beverly and Tasha were being nasty. So if Beverly was really coming down unfairly, you’re right to be bothered, because it shows you a side of her that you didn’t know before and you’re not comfortable with (and shouldn’t be!). But if you’re projecting your own experiences onto Deanna, and identifying Beverly with your own bosses, and that’s what’s changing your perception of her, it could speak to your own “mild mistreatment” as a med student and how that’s affected you. Even if it’s not as bad as what some of your friends have dealt with (since you mention violence and sexual abuse in your letter, I shudder to imagine), it still “leaves a mark,” in your own words. I know that’s common for med students, but it’s still harmful. Whether Beverly is a nightmare boss or not, and whether things work out with her or not, it might be worth examining how your own sense of self-worth has been affected by your job, and whether there are any steps you can take going forward to keep yourself well.

    Good luck.

    1. Ambivalent*

      I agree. I find it off-putting that the OP overheard his girl-friend having a conference call, and is drawing all kinds of conclusions without other information. I think when someone’s working from home, they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. I mean, technically, work-conversations are supposed to be confidential aren’t they? Isn’t it humiliating for the subordinate that she was overheard not just by her boss, but her boss’s SO? And from the girlfriend’s POV, if I was criticized about my tone during a conference call by my SO who is unrelated to the business, I’d find it hard to not get angry and defensive.
      If this is a pattern of behavior – if OP’s girlfriend is generally abusive to people in a weaker position (as someone mentioned, servers at a restaurant etc) I can see bringing it up. But overhearing a conversation out of context? I’m not saying you can’t bring it up, but I think OP should be very very careful to says he is talking about how this makes him feel, aand not about his commenting on her management style, which from this alone I don’t think he has enough information to go on. I mean, if my SO lectured me like that, I think I’d just stop discussing work problems with him completely, out of the fear of being judged without sufficient context.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I don’t think there’s a universal rule that work-conversations are supposed to be confidential. People have them in airports, coffee shops, etc.

        Would someone expect that their boss’s partner overhear a negative feedback session? I think not, but it’s not like their SSN was shared inappropriately.

      2. redacted for this one*

        I agree it’s not ideal, but I didn’t read it as OP actively eavesdropping, and I don’t really fault OP for having a reaction to what was overheard. I just think the perception/reaction is probably rooted more in OP’s own experience than in Deanna’s. OP doesn’t even have much of a frame of reference for Deanna’s situation.

      3. Allison*

        Truth, I feel super self-conscious any time I’m on the phone and someone can hear me, especially since a peer at my first job sent me a long email criticizing how I spoke to a coworker in another department. I worry an older person will hear how casually I speak to my mother and chew me out for disrespecting the woman who raised me. I worried a guy I was dating years ago would overhear a weekly touch-base call and lecture me on how I wasn’t pleasant enough. I try hard but I’m not perfect, and I never know when someone’s gonna pick up on some flaw in what I say or how I say it and make it into a whole big thing like it’s somehow their business.

  26. Allypopx*

    My boyfriend has seen me at work in short snippets and says I turn into a completely different person, particularly when I’m talking to my subordinates or clients. Not in a bad way, but the context is so different than the context of our relationship that it can be jarring for him.

    OP, you should really think about what this is making you feel not attracted to your girlfriend. You’ve probably had bad days in your relationship, right? This sounds like she was having a bad day at work. It seems to have triggered something for you based on your own experiences, but that sounds like a you issue, not a her issue. As her boyfriend, and presumably as a member of her support system, you should be trying to empathize with her, not Deanna. That doesn’t mean you can’t be bothered, but you should be asking about her stress level, whether these have been ongoing issues…even say her tone worried you! But don’t villainize her. You only heard one conversation out of context. If that’s enough to shut down your relationship, that’s a big-huge-deal relationship problem.

  27. Amber Rose*

    LW, to be honest, none of that sounded particularly overblown.

    The fact is, Deanna went into what was probably a pretty important presentation to her manager with what sounds like a half-assed job. The tone you hear from her, of defeat and fear, has two possible causes. The first is the one you mentioned: the tone of the abused. The second cause is more common: being in a position you’re a bad fit for.

    I’ve been there. I always sounded miserable because I knew I was doing everything wrong but there was just no way I was ever going to become better fast enough. It was a really, really bad fit. And I’ve heard the same tone from friends and family who were in jobs that were just eating them alive.

    I think it’s OK to bring this up with your girlfriend. You should. But make lots of use of I statements. “I was a little surprised at how harsh Deanna was treated, because it made me feel like the situation was similar to times I was mistreated. I hope you can tell me a little bit more about the situation.” Talk about yourself. Don’t say, “You were X and Y” because you won’t get anything useful out of the conversation if she gets defensive and upset.

  28. Liz T*

    I’ve been googling around for clips of this “Yeaahhhh” and the only Office Space “yeahs” I can find are really not that drawn out. I get that that character is annoying, but replicating the way he says “yeah” would not actually make someone that big a jerk.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I also assume she wasn’t purposefully mimicking the character. “Yeah” could be a filler word (just like ‘like, um, so, okay,’ etc.) that she was using to give herself an extra moment to think.

  29. LBK*

    Agreed with this assessment – I think most people tend to sound ashamed or fearful when they’re getting negative feedback about important work they did, harshly delivered or not.

  30. Super Anon for This*

    I’ve just gotta say, and I know I am biased, I put no weight on Beverly’s “excuse” that Deanna was told not to use Powerpoint.

    1) Because it sounds like an excuse for snapping/rude tone during the call.

    2) Because we have all had/heard about those psycho bosses before who remember things different than the reality, right? My boss would swear up and down that things that had never happened had, and that they hadn’t said things they had said, even when I had multiple coworkers as witnesses.

    And my boss had and SO, friends, family, did charity work, they only treated their underlings this way, which tells me they were aware on some level of what they were doing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      And the counterpoint to that is that everyone who’s managed for a while has managed someone who ignored or forgot clear instructions. Again, we don’t know which it is here.

    2. sunny-dee*

      Um, pretty much everything you said is wrong.

      1. It doesn’t sound like an excuse — it sounds like a very legitimate complaint. If I expected a written project plan and got a PowerPoint, that would be a huge and serious discussion.

      2. Possibly, but I’ve also had psycho coworkers who through malice (for just one guy) or incompetence (for a lot of them), simply could not or would not follow basic instructions and screwed up simple tasks. They wouldn’t be able to do Task A, so they’d eventually panic and do B instead because they can kinda do B.

      3. You are saying something is “awareness” and assuming a boss was intentionally trying to be a bad boss when you’re talking about incredibly different contexts and relationships. Someone can be a crappy boss and a great friend, or be really good with kids and absent-minded with customers, or an engaged and supportive boss and a distant and bored parent. Context, stress levels, support from other people, level of skill, level of confidence — there are a million things that influence behavior at any given time.

  31. Bea*

    You absolutely need a conversation with her. Best case scenario is that after your introduction to the toxic workplace you’re on a light trigger when hearing a loved one acting in what you consider abusive and harsh. That’s where I’m leaning because I’ve known abusive bosses and I’ve known healthcare industry abuse, it can skew your knee jerk reactions to very basic things like this.

    This is someone you care about and know on a personal level. If you can’t have these conversations with her, it’s already a sign you need to reevaluate the situation. Give her a chance to discuss your concerns as well. You may be already burnt on medicine and viewing the professional world through heavy eyes. I’ve seen it. It’s powerful and scary. Good luck and be kind to yourself.

  32. Mr. Rogers*

    You definitely need to talk to your girlfriend, if only bc the environment at work is clearly leaving mental marks on you. If you’re seeing everything through that lens to the extent that you felt uncomfortable with a simple “whoa, what was up with that call?? You sounded pissed!” to get her POV shows that you are carrying some baggage around that you deserve support for. This conversation shouldn’t be “you did something wrong”, (and if you’ve never managed someone recognize that you really aren’t speaking from a place of expertise or even experience here), but rather checking in with her. This is your girlfriend after all, how is she doing? Is she frustrated and looking for new ways to manage? This should be about you and her, not you thinking you need to protect some employee because you’re projecting on her. Don’t let that projection distract you from the real issue here, which is your feelings about your girlfriend now.

  33. Allison*

    If my boyfriend overheard me on the phone, and thought based on how I spoke that I may actually be a horrible person, I’d want him to actually talk to me about it, because while I may be able to provide more context into why I acted that way, I’d probably also be mortified that I sounded that way, and while my boyfriend isn’t in the best place to tell me how to do my job, I might take that as constructive feedback and try to be better on the phone because I do care about being a good person. I would hate if he kept those thoughts and feelings about me quiet, and think on it for weeks until he’s convinced himself I’m a rotten person and feels like we need to break up.

    I’ve lost my cool before. My parents, who are generally good people, have lost their cool on the phone due to work issues and bad customer service. It happens. No one is chill and pleasant and sweet 100% percent of the time.

    Also, if you’re overhearing her on the phone while you’re home, I’d take that to mean you live together, which means you probably already know her pretty well, and I’m wondering how overhearing a work call would make you question how well you know her after all this time.

    1. Lilo*

      I will admit to losing my cool to a service provider once. I am normally a chill person but one time a delivery service told me I had my brother’s city wrong and wanted to charge me extra to ship to the correct city even though I had both my paper receipt and online confirmation with the right address. Basically, my nephew’s Christmas presents were being held hostage for no reason. After an hour of being denied a manager and being gaslit, I really lost my cool, called the person frelling incompetent and hung up. My husband called back and got them somehow to fix it and refund my original shipping. I am not normally that person, but everyone has a limit.

      1. shep*

        I’ve also been in the situation once, and also over shipping. I canceled a furniture order, thought it was sorted, then found out I was charged and the whole couch shipped anyway (with a hefty charge on my credit card PLUS the other couch I ended up ordering). I got bounced around between the vendor and the delivery service over the course of about a week.

        I’d also consider myself pretty calm and understanding but I LOST IT with the rude delivery service rep and was nearly in tears by the end of it. (I’d also had surgery the week before and was low-key high on painkillers, which was probably a factor.)

        Finally called the vendor one last time and their rep was fabulous.

        But yeah, I’m sure I sounded like a nightmare to that one (albeit EXTREMELY RUDE) person.

    2. Liz T*

      I agree. But also I’ve dated guys who got weirded out when I “seemed upset” about anything, ever. (Even if I wasn’t actually THAT upset.) So while we don’t know OP’s gender, there’s that to consider as well.

      1. Allison*

        Oh man, I love when guys tell me to calm down when I voice dislike of something, even if I’m not actually angry, upset, or otherwise worked up about it. So great. Sooooo great.

        1. Robin Sparkles*

          Nothing sets me off more than someone (ANYONE) telling me to “calm down”… it’s so incredibly demeaning.

  34. Liz T*

    Maybe OP could look at it as, “I have a partner who is willing to be bad cop so I don’t have to be!”

    I mean, that’s how *my* husband sees it :)

  35. imaskingamanager*

    I think a person should be very cautious before they start assuming they understand the dynamics of their partners workplace or before they start offering unsolicited advice.

    but your comment is interesting/…”and now I am not attracted to her?” What is that all about? I don’t for one minute think that this one overhead conversation (about something that, after all, is not your concern) is THE thing that has turned you off. I would encourage you to thoughtfully consider what is really going on here. I think if you are honest with yourself you will be able to identify other issues that are concerning you and that they are about things more directly relevant to you and her. It may be that this interaction reminds you way too much of how she interacts with you or with family or friends. Maybe? I don’t know. But it’s not about this conversation…..

    1. ZVA*

      Honestly? You can’t say definitively that it’s not about this conversation. I do think it’s worth asking if this is the first time OP has heard her partner speak this way, to establish if this is part of a pattern. But if it is, and it’s showing OP a side of her partner she’s never seen before and is upset by… then maybe it is about this conversation!

      And I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the convo as “not your concern,” either. If I heard my partner speaking to a subordinate in what I thought was a cruel way, I’d sure as heck be concerned… I might be asking myself if this is who they “really” are, if I truly know them, if there’s a side of themselves they’re hiding from me…

      And re: the “not attracted” thing: is it so hard to believe that cruelty or unkindness can be a turnoff? I mean that in a romantic/emotional sense, not exclusively a sexual one…

    2. Anon for this*

      It is absolutely possible for one incident to kill the attraction/attachment. Happened to me on a couple occasions. One example, my husband, whom I at the time loved deeply even though the marriage was going through some rough times, sat me down one day and calmly explained that he believed in equal distribution of domestic duties. He said that his duty was bringing home the money. (I made as much or more than he whenever I worked, before or after that conversation. But I just happened to be out of work and not able to find one right at that moment.) He then proceeded to list my duties as everything else: the cooking, the cleaning, the kids, the garbage (yes, in this order… cleaning, kids, garbage.) He then closed by telling me not to bother him with any of these things again, because they were not his job. We then went on to have a peaceful day at home, I went to bed, and woke up feeling nothing for him. Spent the next 15 or so years trying to bring the feelings back, but no matter how I tried, did not happen. We’ve been divorced for close to eight years now. I have no rational explanation for this. We had been together for 8-9 years before, married for five, and I had never had a problem being emotionally attached to him. But on that day, it was like someone flipped a switch.

      If OP thinks they witnessed something that is a deal-breaker for them, ie that they cannot be with someone who exhibits this behavior, then it is entirely possible for them to lose attraction from that one incident. I do not agree with the few comments I’ve seen above that say OP is using this as an excuse. I do however agree with all of the comments saying that OP does not have the full picture, and may be reading more into what they overheard than what was really there; and that this is a time to have a talk and sort things out.

      1. LBK*

        Uh…I think your husband basically saying he sees you as nothing more than a live-in servant is slightly more serious and understandably relationship-ending than hearing your SO yell at an employee once…

      2. FormerEmployee*

        Except this was a horrible character defining conversation directed towards you whom your husband supposedly loved while what the OP heard was a conversation between her SO and a possibly incompetent/insubordinate employee.

        I can’t imagine expecting my boss to exhibit the same level of caring towards me as he/she does towards their spouse.

      3. Jenny Next*

        Holy crap!

        Was he absolutely astonished when you finally ended the marriage? (Although, technically, he did that.)

      4. Not So NewReader*

        If he wanted a mommy he should have stayed home rather than marrying you.
        I am glad you got away from that nonsense.

      5. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

        “But on that day, it was like someone flipped a switch.”


        This is exactly how I am. It’s happened with past boyfriends, and ex-toxic friends; it’s happened after one big egregious thing, after one not so big or egregious thing that was just the last straw, after a series of small incidents that aren’t necessarily outrageous In themselves but have a cumulative effect over time. And it happens just like that- suddenly, a switch flips to off somewhere and all feelings are just gone. They don’t fade or slowly diminish, but disappear all at once.
        And that’s when I walk away, because once they are gone, they aren’t ever coming back. Flipping that switch has closed that circuit forever.

        So it was not at all unusual for me to read that OP had this happen.

  36. TheCupcakeCounter*

    I have to agree that it sounds like OP is projecting their personal experiences onto this situation. None of the comments made by Beverly that were noted above seem overtly cruel especially when it sounds as if some specific guidelines were given and then ignored (possibly multiple times).
    Have you ever heard your GF talk like this to anyone before? Either in your personal life or on any other calls you mentioned you’ve overheard? If not then it sounds as if this was a one-off incident caused more by Deanna’s poor presentation than Beverly being a bad boss/person.
    My guess is that as a med student you probably have a more empathetic nature which is another reason this rubbed you the wrong way. I’m also curious if any of the mild mistreatment you have experienced (or a more significant mistreatment of a close friend or fellow student) happened in close time proximity to this call? A recent incident might have colored your perception of the call significantly more than you might be aware.
    Honestly based on the information above I’m not sure Beverly did anything that wrong. Most of the more questionable items seem like your interpretation (the Office Space reference, using the term ripping into her) vs the actual content (why would you do it that way? isn’t it your responsibility? this shouldn’t be happening). Its more of a question of whether or not you can be with someone who has to go that authoritarian at times.
    My husband is a manager and is also trying to walk the line between being too soft and too harsh. He was definitely leaning towards too soft and learned the hard way (life changing injury to a subordinate) that sometimes you have to go there to get people to listen. His staff wasn’t taking him all that seriously because there weren’t significant consequences. Then someone paid a very heavy price because the person who was training him didn’t take some prior warnings seriously. My husband beat himself up for months and will always wonder if he had taken some harsher action during one of those previous warnings if things would have been different. I doubt Beverly is at risk of having Deanna be seriously injured but maybe she is about to get fired if she doesn’t shape up and is trying to prevent that with some harsh truths so there are no illusions left.

  37. Adele*

    I feel a bit like, mate you have no real idea what the dynamic is at work, this was not a conversation for your benefit, and you seem to be bringing your issues to your partner’s work situation which is not cool. Perhaps she knows what she is doing and if you are less attracted to her you have your own baggage to sort out.
    A lot of comments are focussed on what tone may or may not have been intended but dealing with under performing staff isn’t easy and this could be part of an ongoing attempt to improve her. Frankly perhaps the best thing would be to go into another room if she has to take calls when wfh and respect her work space.

      1. Adele*

        Having a better day, apologies for just charging in. I think talking to her is good advice but honestly managing a team can be murder, don’t read too much into one overheard convo. Not worth losing a good relationship. Gods know I wouldn’t want my other half to see how I have to be sometimes in the office.

  38. cornflower blue*

    As an example of Alison’s point about your career field being the lens by which you view another: my spouse expressed concern about the fact that I was leaving my desk at random times during the day to do things like grab a drink or use the bathroom. Not that I was goofing off or being excessive, just that I was doing it AT ALL. As a teacher, he could not fathom that I was free to physically move about the building without job-threatening repercussions for “abandoning” my work space.

  39. Jaybeetee*

    I am no longer a manager, but I can empathize with a manager who might be at the end of her tether with a report who just can’t seem to get it together. When I was a manager, we had a guy we ended up letting go eventually, and I recall, over a period of months, my tone shifting from sympathetic and helpful to basically “WTF” when he’d do something wrong. (Mind you, with this guy his actual performance was decent, which was part of why it took so long to fire him, but he had a lot of weird personality issues in a front-facing environment and often made people feel uncomfortable).

    Even now, I’m helping train a newbie in my current job, and I’m finding myself getting snippy at her, because she’s picking things up quite slowly. I feel bad when I take bad tone with her (nothing like what the OP describes, but certainly sharper than I’d like), but at the end of her first month it was like she was on her third day – she just still seemed completely clueless, and made some errors I couldn’t even dream up.

    So OP, when you talk to your GF about this, maybe ask her if Deanna has had previous problems – what you might have been hearing is your gf getting to the end of her patience over a consistently low performer who doesn’t follow direction.

  40. Observer*

    OP, you’ve gotten some good feedback. I suggest you look at the archives here – there was a good discussion of how a toxic work environment can totally skew your world view. That sounds like that’s going on here.

    Here is the thing. I don’t know if your GF’s tone was appropriate or not. But you are totally negating your GF’s issues, and turning this person you never met into an abused martyr. That doesn’t make sense unless you are looking at the world through a very specific filter.

    This is not a criticism. But, I think it would be helpful for you to realize that your worldview IS being affected and how. And, more, I think that you should seek out some help if at all possible. I believe you when you say “it leaves a mark” and that’s really not something you should have to bear alone, if you can get some help.

  41. OldJules*

    Disclaimer – This is not a work advice, this is a personal one.

    Speak to her. My husband and I give each other work related feedback all the time. Not in technical context but more of the, “Hey, you are giving this person way more emotional investment than you need. Here is how to go about it next time.” We typically start with, “Get this, >insert the weird/crazy/angry thing that happened that day.” It makes us both much more effective communicator. My husband gets wayyy more invested in some of the situation than he should. He gets frustrated and while his voice remains calm, he demeanor can portray aggressiveness (tensed muscles/frowning/leaning forward). I frequently remind him that, he already did what he can, now it’s up to management to either promote him so he can do something about it, or do something about it. He is a WIP as far as interpersonal relationship goes when frustrated.

    But we know each other and how we are in work environment, almost 10 years in. It’s not jarring because I never felt that I had to be a different person with him or with work. He knows I am a perfectionist who would work 80 hours week to get things done on time, under budget. I have given subordinates a dressing down (in calm even tones because at that point I am handing the wheels to God, I can’t help him). It helps that we talk to each other about literally everything and we both don’t back down from anything tough conversation i.e. there might be tears/yelling/dead silence. Topics range from our families, to children, to our friends or work. If you can’t even bring yourself to talk about what you heard and how it impacted you, what else aren’t you talking about? Don’t judge her based on internet stranger’s feedback before your conversation. Tell her what you heard, how it made you feel and work from there. For all you know, this poor woman is someone who can’t be managed out, can’t be mentored since she is not in the right position and coaching doesn’t work. OTOH, I also have had female boss who would scream at her whole team for insubordination when someone slips at work. YMMV.

  42. McWhadden*

    OP all I have to add is that when you talk to your girlfriend try to separate out your own issues about how you are treated at work as much as possible. You don’t want to be seen as projecting those onto her. It’s not something most people would react well to.

    Compared to saving lives almost any work issue might seem petty. But consultants are under a lot of pressure constantly. They have to prove their work to the people that have hired them to consult all of the time. If I have a bad few days at work then it’s bad but it’s not the end of the world. If a consultant does that could mean their consulting contract is cancelled. The whole organization pays for that. Consultants are always justifying their reason to exist. Subpar work does have to be stamped out.

    So, I am not saying your girlfriend was justified. I didn’t hear her and I would probably never speak that way to someone. But there is probably a lot more going on/at stake than you might be aware of.

    1. ST:TNG:OP*

      There are a lot of people in medicine who attribute their bad behavior to being under stress saving lives. The fact is much of what you do in medicine is not involved in life-saving. Even surgeons spend some amount of time doing paperwork.

      I would argue the millions of dollars that my girlfriend interacts with every day will make a larger difference in the world than any life I would save.

  43. Koala dreams*

    A lot of people have commented based on workplace experience, I wanted to comment from another view. Maybe you can’t really know what’s going on at your girlfriend’s work, but you can decide for yourself what kind of language and interactions you are willing to accept. You can say that something makes you uncomfortable and you don’t want to listen. Maybe your girlfriend can go to another room when taking work calls, or you can go out. If these interactions take place at work, you can meet your girlfriend outside of work instead of picking her up at work.

    Some people have compared this situation to someone being rude to waiters. You can’t really force somebody to be polite, but you can decide if you want to go to dinner with them. Similarly, you can’t decide what your girlfriend do at work, but on the other hand you don’t need to listen to it. Maybe you rather keep out of her work, and focus on your relationship?

    Just my 2 cents.

  44. Dankar*

    OP, sort me into the camp of people who think you’re reading too much into what you hear with too little context. But that’s neither here nor there. I agree with Alison that you need to talk this over with your partner; anything that causes you to question how you feel about her needs to be addressed. You’re not being fair to her or yourself until you sort this out and move forward.

    I do want to caution you that you need to be prepared to be seen as “the bad guy” when you do discuss this with your partner. My SO and I recently had a bit of a snit over a similar problem with my work. I have a student worker who cannot be trusted to do even the most basic of office tasks. We’re taking steps to have them moved to a new position (there is no “firing” of student workers in a traditional sense), and I’ve made the decision not to give them any more tasks in the meantime as it makes more work for us to chase up mistakes. He thinks I’m being too harsh and should work with them more. I was very, very irritated that he was commenting on a situation that he had no background info for and no concept of how his approach would affect our department. You’re working on a similarly-slim view of your partner’s work life. Have the conversation, but be ready for her to feel as though you’re unjustly judging her or injecting your understanding of the situation where it doesn’t quite fit.

  45. Green Door*

    I would also suggest to LW that you think about this one phone call in the context of your whole relationship. Some people have a very different personality at work than in the rest of their life because it’s a personality that is necessary for survival/success where they work. Does your partner talk this way to store clerks and wait staff? To kids? To her own friends/family? To strangers that, say, bump into her on the street? If she generally doesn’t, then I would assume this is just her work personality and let her manage her job the way she needs to. Now….if you begin to realize that she speaks this way to a lot of other types of people, well, maybe she’s not someone whose company you want to continue to be in.

  46. I See Real People*

    There is a clique of mean girls in my office. Only one of them delivers the nasty conference call or confrontation like the OP’s girlfriend. The others just create a frenzy around the issue to build her up until she confronts whomever is on their list.

  47. ST:TNG:OP*

    Just letting you know I have been reading everything and I keep thinking about this. I appreciate the diversity of responses.

    On the one hand you have a person who absolutely did not perform her job and who needs to be reprimanded. You are right I had not considered what a problem her speaking patterns might be in front of a client. You’re also right I don’t know how many times this feedback and correction have been delivered.

    On the other hand you have my usually good-hearted and loving girlfriend saying things in a tone of voice and manner that are drastically out of character for her. I perceived these as being cutting and not merely remediating. It’s hard to hear somebody give a presentation and to hear literally every comment be a criticism. When I say there were some good suggestions, I meant Deanna rightfully pointed out if they weren’t getting the responses they wanted from the client, it could be the methods of assessing the client’s needs were faulty. I didn’t realize at the time Deanna had been tasked with creating a better way of assessing the client’s needs. Deanna wasn’t merely upset at being scolded. It’s hard to convey how fearful her tone of voice was. The language she was using was of appeasement, self-doubt, and self-deprecation.

    I’ve heard Beverly on conference calls before and she was never like this. That’s why it was so unsettling.

    When I say I wasn’t attracted, I meant I didn’t feel like being physically intimate with somebody who seem to be treating another human being with derision. Med school leaves scars. Something like 40% of medical students come in without a mental illness and leave with one. Hearing a person I love talking to someone in a way that I hate being talked to triggers this innate fear response. I don’t otherwise get triggered. People have died violently in front of me and I have shaken it off.

    I don’t know how I would feel if she heard and criticized me on how I spoke to people at my job. I am a student who needs to be professional in front of patients. Maybe when I’m a doctor I will have leeway to be a complete a******to my peers and subordinates.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      If she’s usually good-hearted and loving, that’s important context. Also that you have heard her on other conference calls for work, and this is not her go-to work demeanor that you’ve heard 100 times before. It sounds like it’s very specific to this one employee and assignment.

      The part about Deanna being fearful, appeasing, self-doubting, self-deprecating–that can be how some people come wired to any criticism, however fair and justified. It’s just not possible to tell them “this is wrong” and have them not convey all those emotions. It’s great if a manager has the time, inclination, and ability to slooooooowly coach them out of it… but it’s pretty common to just be exasperated, and view this as something that you’re supposed to already have mastered as a baseline of a given job.

      I think your fifth paragraph is key, especially, “Hearing a person I love talking to someone in a way that I hate being talked to triggers this innate fear response.” That sounds like this is you, and a dreadful experience with medical school. I gave a couple of examples upthread: I don’t do a competitive sport with my husband–normally the most patient and helpful person–because this is the one realm where he gets impatient and shouty and dismissive. With other people who take the sport as seriously and do it at this level, he’s right in line and it’s normal and they wouldn’t feel hurt and speak back in the same tone; that’s just not me or my role in his life. And my tone of voice telling my teenager not to leave used Kleenex in a pile is different the 40th time I am encountering a pile of used Kleenex. It would probably be traumatizing if they had a friend on the other end of the phone who came pre-traumatized from hearing that exasperated how hard is this? tone from their parents as a first-response go-to for every minor infraction. But that’s the friend’s filter, more than it is the reasonableness of expecting people not to leave piles of used kleenex on the couch.

    2. palomar*

      No disrespect intended, but are you speaking to anyone about the trauma that you’re incurring via med school? Because while I get that hearing your girlfriend speak to an underling in a way that you perceive as abusive, it also sounds like you might be perceiving abuse where there isn’t any occurring. You acknowledge that this is not common for her working demeanor, that you didn’t have enough context to understand the situation when you first heard it, that you are triggered (meaning that you’re acting from a place of trauma)… if I were your girlfriend I think I would be really troubled to learn that one single instance of behavior for which you lack complete context and are filtering through traumatic experiences of your own results in you not being able to give me any benefit of the doubt whatsoever, that you feel confident calling me an asshole on the internet to hundreds of strangers. That would gut me. I think that would be gutting to anyone. And I think that if you actually do love this woman, you owe it to her and your relationship to speak to a professional about what’s happening to you in med school. Being so traumatized by that experience that you’re willing to throw a partner under the bus like this… it’s no way to live.

      1. strawberries and raspberries*

        This is what’s concerning to me too, that the entire thing is SO black and white and so situation-specific absent any other evidence that the girlfriend would treat her this way. This is not to say that she doesn’t have the right to leave the relationship if for any reason she feels unsafe, and I definitely appreciate that attraction or love can disappear relatively fast if something extreme enough happens (per some of the other shared anecdotes above). But from what OP has said (girlfriend is not nor has ever been like this around her, her own treatment in medical school was ultimately mild and not traumatic compared to that of others, etc.) it doesn’t logically follow that the girlfriend is enjoying “treating people with derision,” nor that she would necessarily turn around and start treating her partner this way. I think we’re missing too much information to be constructive either way, and I think this is a bigger conversation that needs to be had with someone who’s trained to have it.

        1. IForgetWhatNameIUsedBefore*

          I’m really uncomfortable with the framing of “if GF hasn’t been mean to OP like she’s been mean to Deanna, it’s nothing to worry about.”

          Abusive people can hide that side of them from their SO for a looong time, and not start showing any of it til the partner is trapped in a marriage, by kids, with no job, isolated from social supports, and so on. It’s happened to people I love, and it’s happened to me.
          Having been through abuse, escaped it, and LEARNED from it, even a single incident of seeing a a friend, family member, SO, etc act uncharacteristically abusive towards someone, seemingly out of nowhere, would send a great big WARNING! flashing in my brain. It would at the very least be a bright orange flag, if not actually red. It’s behavior to be watchful of, not to sweep under the rug because “well they aren’t mean to ME……..so far”

    3. fposte*

      I really like Falling Diphthong’s response, OP, especially about not using Deanna’s tone as a thermometer. It also sounds like you’ve already had a conversation with Beverly about this that was pretty informative and where she heard your concerns, but it seems like that didn’t give you the response you were looking for. Do you know what response you’d hoped for from her? For that matter, do you know what response you hoped for from AAM? (It could be just “Food for thought,” of course; I’m just wondering if the process helped illuminate just what it is that would make the situation right for you.)

      I do think we may be beyond any objective determinant here–what matters is if you can reconcile your negative and positive feelings about Beverly. I think it’s an okay thing to do, and it doesn’t mean you’re by inference accepting of the abuse of medical training, but I also think it’s fine to say “This just isn’t a facet I can accept” and decide this relationship isn’t viable.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      Something I learned in the Peace Corps that has really held true is that people can put up with anything for 3 months. Longer than that and it becomes your life, and reminders that the torment will one day end are a lot less meaningful. It sounds like medical school for you has gone past “frustrating at times, but worth it for the long-term tradeoffs” and into something you loathe on a visceral level. Some therapy with a neutral third party, to sort out what your options are and what’s in your control, could be really helpful.

    5. LBK*

      I notice that the majority of the additional information you’ve provided in your follow up comments has been able your workplace and the stress and toxicity you’re encountering there, not anything to do with your relationship or Beverly (either as a significant other or a manager, which is ostensibly what this letter was originally about).

      I really think the problem here is your own job, not anything to do with your girlfriend. I might start by trying to process some of the anxiety that’s clearly building up there – it seems more like briefly hearing Beverly speak in a harsher tone in a work context triggered your workplace anxiety and that’s what’s freaking you out. If there’s nothing else to suggest she’s secretly a mean person (since again, you say you’ve never heard her talk like that before even in a work context) then that feels like a weird thing to identify as the issue rather than your toxic work environment, which you’ve written about at length here. I can’t think of the right psychological term for it right now but it definitely feels like some form of projection or misapplication of feelings onto another source.

      1. ZVA*

        This is a great point, LBK, and I noticed this as well — that the majority of OP’s comments have been about what sound like traumatic workplace experiences. OP, you said it yourself: Hearing a person I love talking to someone in a way that I hate being talked to triggers this innate fear response. I think you understand that this is more about you and your workplace than it is about your girlfriend, and I would encourage you to make that your focus moving forward, and to seek professional help (from a therapist, for example), if you aren’t already doing so.

        I also want to add that when you say It’s hard to convey how fearful her tone of voice was. The language she was using was of appeasement, self-doubt, and self-deprecation… The fact that Deanna displayed those emotions doesn’t necessarily mean that your SO caused them. She could have been giving intense but warranted/appropriate feedback and that’s just how Deanna reacted. Some people aren’t great at taking criticism (and I’m speaking from personal experience here)! Just something to keep in mind.

    6. Jesmlet*

      On the one hand, personal experience with abuse can color your judgment and make you see other experiences through that lens. On the other hand, personal experience with abuse can make it easier to recognize when it happens to other people. It’s very hard from any perspective to determine which is happening here, but there’s nothing wrong with no longer wanting to be intimate with someone who has the capacity to treat others in a way you would not want to be treated.

      What I would want to know is how does Beverly treat you when she strongly disagrees with something you’ve said or done? And if you knew for certain she’d never treat you the same way she treated Deanna, would it still matter? If the answer to the second question is no, then I would look more carefully at how your work experiences may be coloring your assessment, and whether or not you were reacting to Deanna’s tone and this new side of Beverly, or if you were truly picking up on something beyond normal managerial criticism. Just because you’re hearing a conversation full of criticism doesn’t necessarily mean it was unwarranted.

    7. Kathleen Adams*

      It’s just so hard to tell if what you heard from Beverly was justifiable snarkiness or not, if it sounded worse to you than it was because of your own experiences or not, or if there’s a mixture here. (By that I mean that it’s perfectly possible that Beverly was harsher than she should have been *but* that it sounded even worse to you than it was because of your experiences. Or not.)

      There’s just no way for us to tell.

      But I do agree that even if Deanna had messed up, there’s no excuse for meanness and belittling, and I would find it disturbing if someone I cared about treated subordinates that way.

    8. Observer*

      So, firstly, from what you are saying, your GF wasn’t being a complete a**hole. So whatever you do or say about this, you need to do so without blaming her. Even if you decide that you simply can’t live with it and need to move on. You need to do what you need to do, and if you are at a point that you can’t deal with knowing that your GF needs to be somewhat harsh with people, I’m not going to blame you for that. But, understand that what you are describing doesn’t sound like being a jerk or really bad boss.

      I get that this was triggering, and that’s a problem for you, regardless of “fault” or lack thereof. Nevertheless, it’s worth your while to think about a few things. One is that this is out of character, which means that you should consider that perhaps she was NOT intentionally just trying to cut someone down.

      Given the additional context you provide here, it sounds like Deanna totally messed up and your GF was rightfully exasperated. Certainly the things they said to Deanna sound very, very reasonable. And, given how badly Deanna seems have messed up, it’s easy to see why she is worried. It sounds like she’s close to the point where most bosses would fire her.

      The reason I am saying this is that what makes sense to do about this is different if your GF is being a jerk vs doing something reasonable but triggering. “Jerk” means that it’s much more reasonable to go to “Do I want to be with this person?” right away. Reasonable but triggering means that perhaps it’s worth thinking about ways to avoid the trigger while continuing to see what happens with the rest of your relationship.

      Also, this says to me that (I know I’m repeating myself) that getting some help is worth your while. Having that kind of fear response triggered sounds rough. And, given how often people who are abused wind up either perpetuating the cycle or getting too passive when they shouldn’t be, this is something to think about as well.

    9. AnonAcademic*

      Hi OP. I’m in an “elite” med school as a postdoc on the research side and I know well the “tear them to shreds” mentality. I also have a spouse who can become a totally different and much more unpleasant person on the phone because it’s sometimes necessary in his field when negotiating with vendors. When he is being assertive, it’s attractive because he does it with levelheadedness and confidence. However there was one time he relayed to me how he chewed someone out in frustration, using expletives, over a problem caused by their coworker. This person had no idea what was going on, and as he told me the story I felt worse and worse for them for being the messenger that got shot and cursed at. That time, I had the response you did – to recoil from my partner because I felt he was acting like a bully and taking out his anger on someone who wasn’t at fault. We were able to talk about it though and he eventually ended up apologizing to them for how he spoke to them.

      I think you need to consider the effects of your own trauma here, but also whether your partner was acting in the interest of the business by presenting necessary critical feedback, or if she was on some sort of bullying power trip. Maybe you could ask her how she feels when her subordinate sounds fearful and intimidated? Perhaps there is some history there that explains her harsh response, or she doesn’t pick up on their tone as much as you do? But if you get a hint of “she’s my subordinate and I can talk to her however harshly I want” then yeah, I’d say that’s at least a yellow flag in your relationship.

    10. Stellaaaaa*

      Some people get that fearful tone in their voice when they’ve knowingly done something wrong in the hopes that they wouldn’t get caught. Deanna got caught. This one phone call wasn’t an indicator of your girlfriend’s typical behavior in the workplace, as this situation was made negative by an employee who shirked her responsibilities. You seem to be reluctant to believe that Deanna might have genuinely messed up. How else would you expect any manager to respond to a really bad work product?

      1. CityMouse*

        Yeah I’ve worked on training people and I’ve had to fire people before. People who immediately jump to defensiveness or act like you’re kicking their puppy when you give criticism are really really hard to manage.

        You really can’t gauge a manager by how a single person reacts. I had a friend who is unbelievably nice have a trainee cry on her because she told her that she had performed a task incorrectly. She didn’t say it meanly and she dissected this conversation with us repeatedly – the woman just overreacted to any sort of feedback.

        Point is, you’re immediately jumping to the side of the third party and there’s a good chance that’s just not fair.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          I think this is a case where wanting to be open-minded and compassionate is resulting in virtue-signalling. OP is siding with the person who wants everyone to just be cool with lackluster work, instead of seeing the perspective of the woman who’s actually trying to do the right thing and do a good job.

          I’m putting it in these terms because I’m so effing tired of people – women especially – not being taken at face value when the correct action also happens to be the unpopular one. OP’s girlfriend shouldn’t have to go along to get along in this instance. Don’t push a woman to “be nice” at the expense of her career.

          1. Observer*

            It’s pretty obvious that that is not what is going on here. I do think that the OP is totally misreading the situation here, but it has nothing to do with virtue signaling or expecting women to be “nice”. It has to do with the fact that this reminds the OP very much of the real abuse she has seen and suffered and is having a hard time getting past her fear reaction to see what is actually going on.

      2. Linden*

        What?! You sound like a mafia boss. What do you mean, she “got caught”? She was giving a presentation, not doing something illicit on the sly! I also think saying she shirked her responsibilities misrepresents what happened- it’s not that she showed up with nothing done or only an outline- it’s that she presented the assignment in the wrong form. Good people sound fearful when their abusive superiors are about to attack them; untrustworthy people are much less likely to have that reaction- they generally talk their way out of things, confidently making up more stories to avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes.

        1. Observer*

          No, she totally failed to do here job. She was told to present a fully executable plan, NOT a PPT deck, yet, it’s the PPT deck that she showed up with. And based on the questions and comments the OP reports, and the additional information she added, it’s clear that she left out SIGNIFICANT portions of the work that was supposed to have done.

          Calling someone out on base line failure to follow instructions and do an assigned task is hardly abusive.

    11. WeevilWobble*

      Love your user name.

      I didn’t really weigh in. I see both sides.

      But if you have heard her on work calls before and she still isn’t like this then I’d give her a bit of a break. Even if handled poorly she was clearly lashing out out of frustration. Even if not cool it’s not the norm.
      Best of luck with med school/internships/residences!!!

    12. Zahra*

      A few things:

      – First, I’d absolutely bring your work experience to the conversation as a “here’s what I see happen with this kind of tone”
      – I’d tell her that her tone was unlike what you usually hear and is there a problem with this particular employee that brought that tone to the fore?
      – Please, go to therapy. I know it’s not something that doctors or medical students “do”, but it’ll absolutely help you with your current trauma, how to deal with the ongoing work/internship atmosphere, etc. And I mean not necessarily how to answer to the doctors, but how you can reframe it in your head so you can get the useful part out of it. For example, that mean doctor you’re talking about below might want to do the feedback with everyone because more than one person could learn new things from someone else’s feedback. The tone isn’t good, but the activity might have some merit.
      – Please don’t become like them when you’re done. You know how it feels. Don’t perpetuate the circle and strive to be like the doctors who make you feel more comfortable while teaching you something valuable.

  48. peachie*

    This is a general question related to this particular situation–how common is it in your workplace for criticism to be given in front of others?

    My workplace is far from perfect, but I do appreciate that I’ve only been given criticism one-on-one, and I’ve never heard a supervisor give criticism with others present. (By “criticism,” I mean the “You messed up/have an ongoing problem with x, and we need to talk about it,” not “Hey Peachie, the dates are wrong on this flyer, can you fix it?”)

    1. ST:TNG:OP*

      In my medical school workplace 99% of the time you are being given feedback in front of your peers, superiors, patients, and almost anyone else who stands around nearby. I saw an attending go around a circle of residents and whenever one of them spoke, she would say something mean to that person. Not subjectively mean. Objectively mean. It was incredibly uncomfortable and when she directed it at me, I absorbed it because there was no point in dealing with a person who is obviously taking pleasure from hurting others. Put this in context with one of her peers who was likely smarter than she who also had a bit of a sarcastic streak. She never made me feel like she was being nasty even when the tone of voice was a bit snarkier than I would prefer. I respected both women. I just hated rounding with the first one.

      1. LBK*

        I think the problem is that you’re in a workplace where this kind of talk is par for the course and you’re therefore assuming that if you hear Beverly do this once, that means she must be doing it all the time and you’re just not hearing it. That kind of harsh criticism isn’t a day-to-day thing in most lines of work – it does only tend to come out rarely and only in sensitive situations. Your work experience is telling you that this must just be what Beverly is like all the time (even though all of your experience with Beverly tells you otherwise) but in most workplaces, even nice managers can have either bad days or serious situations where a harsher tone comes out. It doesn’t mean they’re secret bad people, it’s just part of being human.

    2. Linden*

      In my former workplace, almost never. In the rare cases I can think of when this did happen, it actually hurt the reputation of the person who gave the negative feedback rather than the receiver, but I think that in most cases it was because it tended to be out of line. (That is, it wasn’t that Feedback Receiver actually had an ongoing problem, and Feedback Giver calmly said we need to talk about this issue, but rather that Feedback Giver sort of flew off the handle in a kneejerk response saying that Feedback Receiver messed up when others agreed that Feedback Receiver did the right thing.) I guess it just wasn’t part of our corporate culture, even though it was an extremely competitive (maybe even “cutthroat”) place. I generally think “praise in public, correct in private” is a good rule of thumb to live by though.

  49. Willow*

    No way should Beverly have been on that conference call and not kept it confidential (e.g., away from LW). On a conference call or speakerphone, everyone should know who is there and who is not there.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Eh, it’s not unusual for your (discreet, grown-up) romantic partner to hear your end of a conference call; they’re just expected not to blog about it. My husband and I both use headphones and mute a lot, but those tend to be calls with more than three people, where we’re weighing in only rarely. (It surprises me that Beverly wasn’t on headphones for technical reasons of avoiding feedback, though perhaps they also have a puppy with a taste for electronics.)

      1. Linden*

        I once shared an office with someone who put literally every one of her calls on speakerphone. Including fights with her significant other.

        But yeah, it would be much less appropriate to say, “oh my boyfriend is listening in too” than to have him just meandering around quietly in the background if Beverly was using speakerphone (for example, if she needed to use her computer at the same time), unless of course the content of the call was confidential.

  50. FormerEmployee*

    It seems as if the OP is relating to Deanna without seeing that the difference in context is key. The OP is giving examples of gratuitous mean and nasty comments in her work life situation. She doesn’t seem to see that Deanna was not being criticized for not knowing something she was never trained to do or just because she is low person in the group. Rather, Deanna was being reprimanded for once again not doing what she was told to do and, in fact, doing what she was expressly told not to do. Just because she sounded beyond upset doesn’t change the facts of the situation. To give an extreme example, when people are convicted of serious crimes and realize they are going to spend years in prison, they often break down and cry. Does that make it mean to sentence someone to spend years in prison for committing the crime?

  51. Not So NewReader*

    OP, you might benefit from having a talk with your GF about work place persona/tone.

    My husband and I had a talk like this early on. Thank goodness, no surprises later on.
    We both admitted there were times where we had to be a person we did not like. If someone is doing something unsafe, we might bark at them, for example. Then there were times where he shared at home stuff (pets) with an angry customer because the distraction helped the customer to calm down. He did not like using this technique but he had to. I explained that sometimes the work moved so fast that I was just yelling orders over the noise. This way we understood a little about how the other person thought .

    And we both told each other that it was very important WE did not speak to each other like that.

    I respectfully disagree with others who say it does not matter what we do at work. It’s none of our SOs business. Yeah it is our SOs business. For one thing person is doing something illegal that could have huge impact on the SO. Layoffs, demotions, PIPs also effect an SO. But the most important thing, I think is that couples need to talk over work place issues with each other . SOs can offer insight or suggestions that can be valuable.

    I am a bit concerned that you say you may turn into one of these people you dislike. Unfairly, part of your solution here might be to address that statement with a commitment to yourself that you will strive to be fair at all times This is hard stuff. As we age our work place persona and our home persona spill over. Start now committing to being a fair minded person in all parts of your life. Through your own experiences with striving to be fair minded you will better understand your SO’s battles , too.

  52. Linden*

    Oh gosh, I’m totally with OP on this one (and I guess against the grain?). I was a consultant for five years and I was never treated this way, nor would I ever think of treating someone this way, not just because it’s mean but because it’s counterproductive to break down the confidence of people who lack confidence while public speaking! First of all, people tend to shut down when you immediately deluge them with criticism the moment they open their mouths or do anything, and second of all, it will just make them more nervous and a worse presenter next time. I think a much better approach would be to let Deanna finish the presentation, and then give the feedback, in a kind, respectful, matter-of-fact tone. An angry “we told you to do x and you did y” could be replaced by “When we said to do x, we envisioned [clearer, more detailed description of x]. When we ask for x in the future, please do that.” If needed, one could add, “It’s really important to read instructions carefully to make sure you know what is required and do what is being asked. If you are not sure, please clarify with us or send us a draft before you make the final [x].” I understand that Deanna needs to be more independent, but it sounds like she’s not quite ready for that, and I doubt berating her is helping. Junior employees need to develop confidence over time. That confidence starts with being able to ask a follow-up question on something they don’t understand, and I don’t blame Deanna for not doing this with Tasha and Beverly judging by the way they “rip into her.” Obviously, as you progress through your career and even gain experience in your position, you need to ask fewer questions, but generally you start with a lot and as you get them answered, there are fewer. It sounds like they just need to dial back Deanna’s training/progression a bit (sorry, this is reminding me of dog training; sounds like asking too much of the dog too soon, and needing to dial back to his last success if what you’re asking him to do results in failure).

    There are other, constructive things Beverly and Tasha could say after the presentation, such as “I suggest practicing your presentation ahead of time to make sure everything is polished and portrays you and our company as competent professionals who our clients can trust with their most important tasks. For example, when you say, ‘teapots are getting crazy expensive!’ it doesn’t sound professional. Something like ‘the price of teapots has increased 200% over the past two years” would be more appropriate.” They could even suggest Deanna join a public speaking group or practice in front of her family or cat before giving a presentation at work.

    As to Alison’s last point, I think she probably hit the nail on the head with the insight about managers getting more frustrated by employees they have less control over, but I don’t understand the suggestion to tell Beverly that she’s not doing Deanna any favors by keeping her in that position- I understand from the letter that Beverly is not Deanna’s manager and doesn’t have that direct power; it’s Tasha who does.

    However, this post isn’t really about how to improve Beverly’s management style, it’s about what LW should do about his (or her) relationship with Beverly. If this bothers you, I honestly think you and Beverly are incompatible. It sounds like Beverly has gotten a little bit of power and is using it in a way you take issue with. It’s possible that this is just due to her inexperience, but if her first inclination to treat people like this when they underperform, I think that’s a character issue and it’s going to get worse as she gets more power (which she probably will, as she progresses through her career and life). I don’t think she’s the person you want with you going forward (at least if you’re considering a long-term relationship or marriage). People have different work and personal personas, but as I said, I think this is a character issue that will get worse with age- now it’s Deanna, but if you marry Beverly, it will be you or your kids when you fail at something. I think this is a character issue that is extremely common (some may even say common nature; the reason why man can’t wield the One Ring!), but that doesn’t make it ok, at least for you, who is clearly bothered by it. You can try talking to Beverly about the way she treats Deanna and who knows, she may apply your advice, start treating Deanna better, see that it works, and change for life. More likely, however, is that this is her personality and she thinks it’s ok to treat people this way when she can. This may be a bold statement to a stranger on the internet, but I think you should rethink your relationship with her and consider looking for someone who has values more in line with yours- try to observe how they interact with and talk about others, particularly those less “competent” or successful than them, before you get emotionally involved.

    1. Yorick*

      There is no way I’d be that kind about failing to follow actual directions. We teach elementary school kids to follow directions carefully. Remember the assignment where you’re supposed to read them all before doing anything, it has all those crazy things but at the end it tells you not to do any of them? Yeah.

      When my college freshmen don’t follow the instructions for the assignment, I try to be patient and remind them of how important it is, but they still get a bad grade (maybe failing). When my graduate students don’t bother to follow instructions? I let them know that I’m severely disappointed, and I think their emotional reaction to that helps them avoid that mistake in the future.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        Why should you ever be UNKIND though? You can deliver negative feedback in a kind way. You don’t need to adopt a harsh tone, you can let your words speak for themselves.

        1. palomar*

          Why does it need to be kind, especially? What constitutes harsh? Is matter of fact too harsh? When I’m criticizing your work after months of lackluster performance with no improvement, do I really have to use a warm-hearted, friendly tone? That’s what kind means. Are you really saying that good management requires that negative feedback be delivered as if it’s a coffee clatch between old chums?

        2. Yorick*

          I don’t think a warm, friendly tone is useful for such conversations. Should you smile and sound nice while telling someone their work is not at the level one expects for doctoral students, or telling someone they’ve dropped the ball so many times that their job is in jeopardy? That would confuse the person, or even make them think you enjoyed their misfortune.

          A “harsh” tone can signal that things are serious, which can be important when some students (and I assume some employees) think everything is no big deal and they will just coast along.

    2. Observer*

      In re-reading this, I realized that you seem to be missing a key point here. What you describe is the appropriate reaction where Deanna was supposed to be giving a presentation, and Beverly and Tish are supposed to be coaching her.

      However, that’s not the situation here. Deanna was NOT supposed to be giving a presentation – she was supposed to be presenting a fully worked out plan of action, which normally means that things build on each other and you need to get piece one right before moving on to the next. Secondly Beverly and Tish were there are managers, not coaches, and they need to manage the work product she is supposed to be providing. So suggestions are not really what is appropriate here. Especially since the many of the things that they picked up on (especially tasks that had not been done, or items that Deanna had apparently tried to push onto others) are things that they need to INSTRUCT HER TO DO.

  53. Kms1025*

    Wow, this entire thread seems to be heavily “colored” by past experiences, either personal or observed. Really believe girlfriend may have been at the end of her rope with underperforming coworker and OP really should NOT weigh in on a workplace dynamic observed in one very brief exchange.

  54. Amy*

    The fact that the subject line of the original email stated that the OP is no longer attracted to his/her girlfriend means there are much bigger issues in this relationship. Deal with that piece of it first.

  55. Yuppers, it's me.*

    I’m going to try very hard to keep this concise – hopefully even clear. My former SO of many years was/is a college dean. I had heard him speak both in person and over the phone to his faculty/admin professionals. (He would also ask me to edit emails.) Admittedly, he sometimes sounded like a jerk (Truth be told, he had to deal with some pretty intense jerks, too.) and wasn’t getting anywhere with several of his charges. I talked w/him about his tone and delivery – the importance of being firm yet collegiate. In time, he learned to be less combative and accusatory, more patient and diplomatic. MANY of the faculty/staff actually thanked me for this noticeable positive change. (As did his family.) After a few years, the old “Bob” started to reemerge, and he began snapping and being snarky and rude to everyone – me, my children, his family, strangers…NOT. GOOD. I guess my point is, RED FLAG. Some personality traits extend beyond the office into the home/public, and they foreshadow a much deeper issue.

  56. Big City Woman*

    I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this because I couldn’t read the whole page yet, but while I was reading the post, I wondered how the OP would have interpreted the conversation if Beverly was a man. Would it be harsh, or simply authoritative? We as a society can be very unforgiving towards women who have authority and express it in a straightforward or even stern manner, while expecting, or not even noticing it, from a man in a similar position.

    Also wanted to say… I wonder how many of you Office Space fans have ever seen the movie Clockwatchers with Lisa Kudrow, Parker Posey, Toni Colette, and Debra Jo Rupp? It’s about temping and it’s so-o-oo00 good! I temped in the same office where the screenwriters worked while writing it. A lot of it reminds me of that assignment. They had a lot of success with it but actually went back to temping after it came out, in order to make ends meet while raising money for their next film. Ahh, office work..

  57. Yuppers, it's me.*

    Ehhh…it’s A LOT. And I’ve had a few years to reflect and (try to) collect my thoughts…

  58. Not A Manager*

    If I were Beverly, I would be very distressed that my significant other heard ONE side of ONE conversation and decided that I was a mean person – to the point of losing sexual attraction. Unless this relationship is very new, OP has a lot of contrary information about her SO, and extremely incomplete information even about this one interaction, let alone about Beverly’s general management style. I think OP should talk to Beverly, as much for Beverly’s sake as for her own sake. If my partner jumped to conclusions and judged me the way OP is doing here, I would feel very unsafe in the relationship.

    I think OP should very carefully explore whether her own abusive workplace has traumatized her more that she is aware of.

  59. Med Student*

    OP, from one medical student to another, those rumours don’t have to be true, at my med school we’re generally treated pretty well, we’re quizzed a lot obviously, but we’re not not bullied or belittled for not knowing things, and certainly nothing worse! Please consider whether there’s people at your med school you can report unacceptable behaviour to, and encourage your peers to consider doing the same (if they feel comfortable doing so). There’s a lot of evidence showing that bullying tactics of teaching aren’t actually as effective as they were believed to be, and a lot of places are trying to stomp out that sort of behaviour.

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