can I ask my employees to be nicer?

A reader writes:

I’m a new director at a medium-sized nonprofit that has gone through a hard year. There have been many staff changes in the past year, and I can tell that many within the organization are still struggling to negotiate these changes. Two supervisors who report to me are very unfriendly to me. They give one-word responses most of the time. They don’t say hi or bye unless I really go out of my way. They never ever ask how I’m doing or anything like that, even though I try to initiate pleasantries with them. I don’t think it’s personal — I think they just are not in the habit of cultivating a positive relationship with a superior. Their lack of warmth rarely offends me, but I do think it sends a bad message to the other people in the department for whom they should be setting an example because they’re supervisors.

Can I ask them to be nicer and more mindful of the way they communicate? I will also continue to lead by example by being very friendly and communicating thoroughly. I have never encountered people at any stage of my career who behave with such a lack of awareness for how they interact with their superiors. I think niceness is really important and it’s not about kissing ass or feeling popular; it’s about laying the foundation for productive conversations and a free exchange of ideas. I don’t mean to imply that I would threaten to give them a negative review, but they really need to be aware of the fact that how they communicate, whether they are open with me, and the example they set for their reports are all things that I could consider in a performance review. Would this come across as petty or needy?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • How should I fill our daily required meetings?
  • Interviewers who make no effort to sell you on the job
  • My volunteer role has become full-time and I want to be paid
  • Managers and the possessive tense

{ 233 comments… read them below }

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      Amen to that. I used to hate my 9am, daily staff meetings. It was just where we’d talk about what we were doing that day. Nothing that couldn’t be put into an email in under a minute and dashed off to spare us all sitting in a cold conference room having to listen to our boss pontificate.

    2. Artemesia*

      If it is a requirement then do it standing up ie huddle at the beginning of the day and focus on goals for the day or challenges of the week. Perhaps meet one on one with a couple of people to model what you want. E.g. if someone is running a project with a deadline coming up ask that person to in 30 seconds indicate where the project is on the deadline. If there is an issue causing problems ask the leader of that to outline how that is being resolved. It can be a 90 second huddle, but you also don’t want people to be afraid to bring up information that is important. But don’t sit down; don’t go to a conference room; stand up together then go to work.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yup. We used to do this at my old job (8:15 a.m. legal team meeting MWF), and it was no longer than 15 minutes, and we did it standing up. It was effective and quick, and as a result, we weren’t grouchy.

      2. Geoffrey B*

        Noting that “stand-up” is better interpreted figuratively than literally. Not everybody can comfortably stand for fifteen minutes, and even “stand up unless you have a medical reason” can be unfriendly to people who don’t want to share their private business with everybody.

        1. Anonanonanonanonanon*

          Totally. I’ve literally never been in a “stand-up meeting” that involved anyone actually physically standing.

    3. Bea*

      I could have done so many more things and not been taken to task at my old dumpster fire job if they didn’t waste 2-3 hours a week on meaningless drowning on about nothing meetings. I was considered too short because my response was “closing the month. Just like every other week. I’m on XYZ step today…” We rarely had projects going to truly update anyone on. Bleh.

  1. Mike C.*

    If you are having a 15 minute meeting as part of Lean or a similar process, you aren’t having a “meeting for meeting’s sake”, you’re supposed to go through the items that have been done, what you’re planning on doing and any roadblocks. If it takes less than 15 minutes then you end early.

    If you’re sitting there having free form discussions then you’re not using the meetings for what they’re intended for.

    Everyone knows I hate meetings with a passion, but 15 minutes isn’t a big deal. If you’re going to use this process then follow the process rather than making it up as you g0 and then wondering why it doesn’t work. That’s a much bigger waste of time than a short daily meeting.

    1. SL #2*

      Meetings for meetings’ sake is complete opposite of what Lean philosophy is supposed to be. OP, I doubt you’re reading this because these are old letters, but for anyone else going through this: this isn’t a matter of useless meetings, it’s that the meetings are a tool that aren’t being used in the intended way, whether intentionally or not.

      1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

        Maybe they should spend their meeting time proving out the Non Value Added and opportunity cost of attending the meetings :)

        Kidding! I don’t suggest doing this… these meetings are somebody’s baby and it’s likely to not go well if the OP pushes back.

      2. CatCat*

        I found the book “Death by Meeting” helpful at illustrating this point. It seems kind of cheesy when you’re reading it (it’s basically written as a fable), but it gave me a lot to think about.

        The fictional company in the book has just the most godawful, useless executive meetings that are quintessential meetings for the sake of meetings. It’s not that they shouldn’t be having meetings, it’s that they aren’t using them in any kind of meaningful way. This is corrected as the tale progresses. (Spoiler alert! They actually end up having more meetings, but the meetings have clear structure and purpose rather than just people in a room floundering about for a reason to be there.)

        1. SL #2*

          Thanks for the recommendation! The book itself might prove to be really useful for our clients.

          (I work at a training organization and we can incorporate the book into our curriculum, not that I’m going to sneak copies of the book into people’s mailboxes!)

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I really love that book. I disagree with some of the recommendations/outcomes, but overall it’s helpful.

          I also think The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making can be helpful for productive meetings.

    2. DanniellaBee*

      I completely agree. I work in Agile which is a similar methodology used for Software Development and it doesn’t sound like the facilitator is managing the time-box efficiently. I like the advice you listed above and would add that she should be calling on each individual and referencing the specific tasks they are working on and asking what has been done the previous day.

      The three questions I ask everyday:
      1.) What did you complete yesterday?
      2.) What do you plan on working on today?
      3.) Do you have any issues or blockers?

      I also find that pulling up the tool of record during the 15 minutes that displays the tasks and going specifically to that persons items while focusing on them works best. If you are using a physical board you should have each individual move their work items from not started, to in progress and complete as they give their updates that the whole group shares dynamically. That allows for clear and complete updates and better lends its self to any blockers, etc. they may be encountering.

      1. Earthwalker*

        This. The point isn’t to give a micromanager a status report but to be sure that members of the team all know what’s going on with the rest so they can plan their own work, to assure that they’re not working at cross-purposes, and to find solutions for anyone whose task is stalled for any reason. Considering how much time can be wasted by miscommunication in a project team, 15 minutes a day (less if the team finishes faster) isn’t much of an investment.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          This is pretty foreign to me and the idea of telling everyone what you’re planning to work on that day and having everyone look at a list of what you planned to work on yesterday and say what you did and didn’t get done seems SO micromanage-y. About 1/4 of my work is things I “plan” to work on, 1/2 is dealing with stuff that comes up suddenly and is more important/interruptions/newly introduced unexpected things (it’s not unexpected that things will occur, but impossible to predict what they are) and the remaining 1/4 is leftover from middle 1/2 category from previous days/weeks/whenever. Wondering if this is more useful for fields with fewer interruptions or ad-hoc problem solving as a built-in part of the work.

          1. Mike C.*

            Maybe this isn’t a useful system in your line of work, but if you had to you could easily say something like, “I’m working long term on X and taking care of A, B and C as they come up”.

          2. SL #2*

            Definitely not; healthcare is where these types of meetings come up (we call ’em huddles). And I can’t really imagine a field with more interruptions and day-to-day instability than healthcare.

          3. Koko*

            It took me a long time to figure out what I was supposed to be sharing in these sort of meetings. In our case, the meetings are weekly instead of daily, and we’re not meant to just be reading our entire to-do list out loud, which is what I initially thought and made the meetings feel super pointless to me – to the extent my work affects other people, they’re actually involved in the work too and we’re talking several times a day, and everyone else in the meeting isn’t really impacted by what I’m doing!

            But it turns out that every now and then, a person from the llama ranch would be sharing details of a project, and someone from the vole ranch would unexpectedly have a great insight based on something they did in a former job or a vole problem they’d already solved that had some of the same features as the llama problem. Or I’d think the information I was hearing a colleague share was useless to me, but months down the line I would actually encounter a scenario where it was helpful to know in a way I couldn’t have predicted – a resources I otherwise would have assumed didn’t exist, instead I knew that someone was in charge of that resource, AND I knew who it was that I needed to ask for it. It took a long time for my brain to see that those things were happening and that they were a result of our meetings, because the effects weren’t always direct or immediate.

            My list is a lot like yours – much of my work pops up after a weekly meeting and is resolved before the next one. I just give the broad strokes of 2 or 3 non-routine projects I’m working on, so I don’t get into the details of my marketing calendar but I’ll mention a new campaign and what its topic will be. I don’t explain all the steps involved in revamping a website but I’ll tell the group that I’m updating the look and content of particular pages. Sometimes an update is, “I mentioned this last week, but some other things came up so I’m still working on it this week.”

            I’ll also often pair these updates with reminding people that I do that kind of work, since I don’t expect the rest of my time to have the same familiarity with all my smaller responsibilities as I do, so I throw in, “Along those lines, this is just a reminder that if you come across any dead links or outdated content on our website, please send it my way and I’ll give it some love.”

          4. Annie Moose*

            I dunno. It’s not really to your manager (or at least it isn’t at my work, where sometimes my manager isn’t even present), it’s more to your team. Nobody’s taking a record of what everyone says, it’s just a quick “hey so this is what I did yesterday, this is what I’m planning on today.” For me, it’s incredibly helpful because it’s easy for me to get distracted and off-track–being mindful of what I’m doing really helps me to focus on what’s important.

            However, we work on a project basis, so that does have a little more structure.

          5. Sam*

            Doing this daily wouldn’t be helpful in my work either because unexpected things can derail your entire day, but my team does tend to do something similar on a weekly basis, and that’s been helpful. Because we work very autonomously between meetings, the regular (but not *too* regular) check-ins really are helpful in keeping everyone on the same page and addressing problems as they arise.

      2. PoetRocker*

        We have a LEAN organization, too, and what you’re describing is done in our “Gemba Walk” which occurs at 9 am with each staff member, every day. This is followed up by a daily Stand Up meeting (what the LW describes) and because of the work our department does, it *can* get pretty redundant. It’s not that we don’t recognize we have problems (PROBLEMS ARE GOLD!! :) ) to discuss, it’s more that if we don’t deal with them as they come up, it will be a moot point by our next daily meeting cycle.

    3. ArtK*

      I think that the OP’s issue is that they don’t have enough material for a 15 minute daily meeting, but it’s been mandated that they have them. Even under Lean (or Scrum or anything similar), having an unproductive meeting is a “meeting for meeting’s sake.” If they don’t have that many issues to go over, then either they’re doing the process wrong, or Lean isn’t the right thing for their particular group.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        Agreed. It sounds like the LW was really trying to match “you have to have a meeting” in a way that they think might please management rather than use it for the intended purpose. You don’t need to be engaging or upbeat or assign roles. If people aren’t giving their updates, ask them point blank for a specific update. Get a brief answer from everyone, then let everyone go.

        1. beanie beans*

          This is exactly what I was going to say. The whole point of short, standing meetings is to be quick and efficient. If someone is enforcing them to make sure the fill up 15 minutes, they aren’t understanding the intent.

        2. paul*

          Could be as simple as their boss has a bug up their butt about it really.

          Yeah they might be able to suggest it but that doesn’t mean their suggestion’s going to do much.

      2. Tuesday Next*

        It doesn’t sound as though the OP actually understands the point of the meeting, which makes me wonder if they are using a relevant methodology or have just had this pointless meeting foisted on them by someone with a half baked understanding of Lean or Agile or whatever.

        A daily standup is only useful in the context of a self organising team where everyone actually needs to know what everyone else is doing and has done, every day.

  2. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

    I don’t think the answer to the meeting question was great.

    I get where Alison is coming from, but sometimes there is no pushing back. You just have to make work whatever the organizations want. That being said, if I were to organize the daily meetings I’d go for a quick set agenda. Off the top of my head here’s what I would set up or something like this (obviously I have no idea what programs your company has in place besides ‘lean’.

    Day 1- Status on open ‘Just Do its’ to include estimated completed date, activities, roadblocks, and risks
    Day 2- Safety (does your company have any preventative type reporting or activities. If not this may be a good place to start a departmental one) It could also be a time to introduce safety topics that make sense for your team. Micro breaks, ergonomics, workplace stress, etc. Assign each person a topic to weekly share with the others.
    Day 3- Brainstorm new or possible ‘Just Do its’ and Just Do it’s’ or longer projects that might involve other teams.
    Day 4- Non Value Added discussion about shared or individual processes.
    Day 5- Summarize the week and then assign tasks for next week.

  3. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1… soft skills matter. Open communication matters. So it’s not about being nice… as nice as that would be :) … it’s about pleasant, professional communication.

    1. Specialk9*

      It’s also about not having one’s direct reports be openly hostile and contemptuous!

      OP, you’re trying to be the Cool Mom. They’re shooting rubber bands at your face, and you’re bringing them cake and coke and hoping they’ll be nicer. It doesn’t work with kids, and it doesn’t work at work.

      Your subordinates are blowing you off to your face, incredibly rudely, and instead of rapping their knuckles, you’re bending over backwards to win them over. Stop that. Get STERN. Stop giving them the power. Their behavior is unacceptable.

      First, document it thoroughly, and discuss with HR and your management. Name it with the direct reports – “hostile behavior” – and explain the behavior you expect to see, and consequences. Put that in the log too. Have several meetings with them, and write it up. You’re almost surely going to have to fire them.

      1. Luna*

        This seems like an overly negative interpretation of what’s written in the OP’s letter. Maybe they are being more hostile than OP initially described, but I don’t think we can tell that at all from the information we have. Not being friendly and extroverted does not mean a person is hostile or rude.

        1. Specialk9*

          Reread it – people are getting derailed by the social chatting part. She said they are very unfriendly to her. She asks them about work and they reply with one word, and refuse even to greet her. How is that not hostile?

          “Two supervisors who report to me are very unfriendly to me. They give one-word responses most of the time. They don’t say hi or bye unless I really go out of my way.”

          1. Luna*

            It is not at all indicated that the one word responses are to questions about work. Even if they are, we can’t tell that it’s rude without knowing the question! OP might need to learn how to ask questions in an open-ended manner. Asking “Did X task get done?”, resulting in a “Yes” answer, is not rude or hostile. If OP wants all the details, questions phrased in an open-ended way will tend to generate longer responses.

            1. always in email jail*

              I agree with Luna… I got the impression these could be one word responses about non-work things.l Also not stopping by to say hi/bye isn’t a huge deal and I’d think a boss was ridiculous if they said “you never say bye to me!”. The fact she said “they never even ask how I’m doing” makes me think they’re just hesitant to have non-work conversations with her

            2. Specialk9*

              Sorry all, I think I brought my own stuff to this one. (I got laid off last week and my baby has pneumonia, so my feels are closer to the surface today.)

              I was picturing all of the behavior in the context of a manager and subordinates already interacting, in close proximity – in a room for a meeting, at one of their desks. Others imagined them physically separated. That makes a big difference, actually. Someone in a conversation-distance bubble, refusing to say hi, and answering any managerial inquiry with 1 word, that’s pretty dang rude. Someone sitting down a hallway, not walking over specially to say hi, and generally not being inclined towards chatting, that isn’t really a problem (though a tad odd of social skills for someone in a supervisory role).

          2. Purplesaurus*

            Two supervisors who report to me are very unfriendly to me. They give one-word responses most of the time. They don’t say hi or bye unless I really go out of my way.

            If the last two sentences are examples of what OP perceives to be “unfriendly,” then I would have to disagree with that interpretation on the face of it. Plenty of questions have legitimate one-word answers (Is the project finished? / Yes.), and I don’t greet my manager either as she’s at the opposite end of the hall. It’s not a refusal so much as… I’m not a howdy-doo homing missile that knows when she’s in range.

            1. Purplesaurus*

              You know, I reread the letter and had missed that the two employees are supervisors. I still don’t agree that there’s any indication of outright hostile behavior, but I more understand OP’s concern about them seeming pleasant, considering their positions.

      2. BritCred*

        Um… No, just because I don’t ask my manager what he’s doing outside of work lately or greet him every day like a class to a school teacher doesn’t make this “hostile behavior”. Write me up like that and I can guarantee that you create hostile behavior though.

        And so what if other departments don’t see us practically hugging our manager and doing group cheers….? They should be concerned with the quality of the actual work and if the communication causes errors or issues then its a problem. Being quiet and not all mates means nothing.

      3. The OG Anonsie*

        Woah woah. What? All she’s said is that they don’t proactively exchange pleasantries or ask personal questions about how she’s doing.

        1. Specialk9*

          Go back and re-read it. They are “very unfriendly”. They give 1 word answers about work. They refuse to greet her.

          They ALSO don’t chat – which by itself, sure, fine, who cares. People can be quiet and not socialize at work, that’s cool. But for the other behaviors, they need to be on a PIP.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            Yeah no, I see the same words you do, and I strongly disagree with your interpretation. If I heard about someone getting put on a PIP for this I would think it was a joke.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          She wrote that they “are very unfriendly to me. They give one-word responses most of the time.” Giving one-word responses “most of the time” is going to read as pretty hostile in most jobs, especially most management jobs. The hi/bye thing isn’t a problem (unless she’s passing them in the hallway and saying hello and they ignore her, in which case it combines with the rest to paint a very problematic picture), but one-word answers most of the time to your manager? In most jobs, that’s not okay.

          1. Sally Sue*

            I am curious what are her questions however. Are they more along the lines of “Did you have a good weekend? Do you have any plans this weekend? Did you finish the teapot report?” Because depending on the type of person, they might feel no need to elaborate more than yes or no. I personally don’t feel need to elaborate on my personal plans at work and if my manager asks me a yes or no question, that’s how I answer and that’s how I expect the people I manage to answer. If OP wants more elaborate answers, then she needs to communicate that to these individuals.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        I’d argue that the “get tough” approach doesn’t work with a lot of kids either….

        The answer is not to demand that they be respectful while not treating them with respect. You can’t demand that they be nice because demands aren’t very nice. This will just create resentment. Are they doing their jobs? Then you can’t fire them just because they don’t say “Good Morning!” (Well, you can, probably, but it’s not reasonable). It’s a big leap to call this hostile and jump to “they’ll probably need to be fired.”

        1. Specialk9*

          See my responses above, with quotes from the original letter. Chatting is not the problem. The hostility is.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            I think you’re being more hostile than the workers. You cannot and should not bring your report into a meeting and demand that they behave a certain way.

            I don’t greet my boss or coworkers in the morning or say good bye in the evening. If I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute, I’ll give a one word response. You can’t put someone on a PIP for demanding that they be friendlier. You know what would happen if you did that to me? You might get my resignation immediately.

            Am I doing my job? Are deliverables being met? Then leave me alone. I am not a child where I need to be lectured about my attitude, so good-bye. I don’t read anything in OP’s letter that says these people are being overly rude. They don’t say hi. They give one word answers. They’re not being hostile. And if they’ve been through a workplace situation where they’ve had multiple bosses, then it’s understandable that they wouldn’t be gregarious.

            1. Specialk9*

              I don’t understand why you think a manager whose employees are being rude cannot lay out expected behaviors. That seems like managing.

            2. Spider*

              You might be in a job or in an industry where you don’t need a good rapport with your coworkers and supervisor in order to meet your job’s standards and perform well, but many jobs depend on building relationships with the people around you in order for them to work smoothly.

              At my job, I have two out of 49 coworkers who are brusque to the point of rudeness with everyone including their supervisors (and who also never say hello or goodbye even in response) and are unwelcoming of conversation in general. Consequently I don’t go to them with questions I may have about work we have in common because a grunted monosyllabic answer is not what I need — I need to have an conversation about (say) workflow issues that require creative thinking and a willingness to compromise. That requires a genial conversation. These two people are not willing or able to have a genial conversation. So I work around them, which is inefficient (and irritating), and so does almost everyone else here. That lowers the productivity of the entire workplace. (Why are they still employed? Because their supervisor is conflict-averse and does the work she should be delegating to them herself.)

              It makes everyone’s life easier and the business run more smoothly if people in a workplace make the minimum effort to be collegial with each other. Asking people to acknowledge someone’s presence and, you know, say “hi” when someone says “hi” to them is not some crazy, emotionally needy demand. It is literally the bare minimum of politeness required to engage in society. We’re not cowboys alone on the prairie with only a horse for companionship; we work in an office.

          2. always in email jail*

            To me the most telling quote is “they never even ask how I’m doing”. To me that indicates their one-word answers aren’t necessarily in regards to questions about work. Just because she’s saying they’re hostile doesn’t mean they are

            1. Anon for This*

              Please scroll up to see Alison’s further insight. Their “one-word answers most of the time” isn’t a good look.

  4. Akcipitrokulo*

    It’s possi le that if the lean meetings kept to their intended purpose, which may mean sometimes “anything? nope? meeting over!” then there could be two outcomes – less frustraion at them, and more participation.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      Or a prompt: very briefly, everyone says one thing they’ve accomplished in the past week and one thing they plan to accomplish in the next. I’ve actually found something like that very helpful, at least to give insight on what team members are doing. If I have questions or information/advice to offer, I catch them after the meeting.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Totally agree. A 30-second “Anything?” “Nope” meeting is a successful Lean meeting if it’s accurate.

      Also if some people never bring up issues and it’s impacting how your team functions, bring it up individually with the people who never speak up. Don’t do forced participation or random roles or whatnot. That kinda defeats the point of Lean.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, it says up to 15 minutes–it doesn’t say it has to be 15 minutes.

        That said, this would annoy the shit out of me, because depending on what tasks the team is doing, there may not be anything to talk about every single day. Maybe twice a week. But I also don’t have any idea what the OP’s company does, so it’s hard to say.

  5. B*

    #1 – A few comments. Your people went through a very hard time and you are new so they may still not be over all they have been through. Here you come with a bright shiny happy face and they are still burnt and exhausted from the past. I also wonder are you asking pleasantries and then going on and on about yourself? And remember you are new, perhaps this is how they have always worked. I do think taking them out to lunch or for coffee one-on-one will help you gain some extra insights into what they are going through.

    Yes, they should be pleasant and professional but not saying hi and bye is not the be all and end all.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I agree with giving them some time but, and this is my opinion, it’s common courtesy to say hello and goodbye when possible. Even a head nod and a smile would be a step in the right direction.

      1. Specialk9*

        I don’t care who you are, if people are openly contemptuous of their own manager, they don’t get to keep that job. It’s why so many of us suck it up when things stink at work.

        1. JM60*

          I don’t think we have enough information to conclude that they’re being “openly contemptuous”. Things such as not being chatty is far from contemptuous. It could be that they are contemptuous, but I find it much more likely that they’re just not usually very outgoing at work.

          1. The Supreme Troll*

            Very much agree with this. I think the OP here is trying to force her staff to change their feelings, about past things that she might or might not know about. Forcing her staff to change how they feel is not something that will work well for the OP; they most likely will wind up digging in their heels.

        2. TakeASeat*

          I think you’re bringing a whole lot of personal baggage into this conversation that is strongly influencing your opinion.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Interesting — I’m not reading it that way at all — I’m actually reading it the opposite, that some (not all) of the people disagreeing are reading it through the lens of their own personal experiences. I think Specialk9’s responses have been right on here, for whatever that’s worth!

            1. blue moon*

              really? Wow! I found their responses so wildly hostile and unpleasant that they made me stop reading. Now I’m scared.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Ha, that made me go back and read everything she wrote to make sure I’d seen it all! I don’t agree with her that the employees should be put on a PIP for this — this is conversation stuff, not PIP stuff — but other than that, I’m basically on the same page. But I also think that some people (including me) are reading this as open hostility and some people aren’t, and that will make a difference in what response seems appropriate.

              2. Specialk9*

                Well I did get laid off last week, so my tone may be sharper than I intended, sorry. I also think that some people are imagining the OP sitting separate and miffed the direct reports aren’t trekking over just to say hi – I’m imagining them being face to face, having a conversation, and refusing to say hi to their own supervisor. It’s a very different scenario. The one wouldn’t actually bother me, the other really would.

            2. JM60*

              I think people may be reading it differently because a lot of it depends on context and tone, and we don’t have a lot of context and don’t know what tone is used. There are many contexts in which one word answers, while not the warmest, are far from “hostile”. If I ask Jane, “How are those teapots you’re making coming along”, and she responds with, “Great,” I think it would be unreasonable to interpret that as hostile unless he tone suggests hostility.

              Part of the reason why I’m inclined to think that the OP may be reading too much into the employee’s behavior is that she says, “They never ever ask how I’m doing or anything like that, even though I try to initiate pleasantries with them.” While the OP says she’s rarely offended by this, I think this isn’t very noteworthy (unless there’s more to the story).

      2. Koko*

        I would say it depends. It sounds like they do say hi/bye, but the LW was having to initiate it. It’s been discussed here before but saying hello and goodbye can be very office-culture dependent. I say “good morning”/”have a good night” to the coworker whose desk is immediately outside my office, and to the person on another team who sits immediately outside the office adjacent to mine, but I rarely say anything to anyone else I pass on my way in or out unless we happen to make incidental eye contact – including my boss.

        In our office culture that’s normal and I would feel like I was disturbing someone or interrupting their train of thought if I spoke to them while they were focusing on their computer. (And as an ADD sufferer I often feel a bit flustered and thrown off track when people interrupt me – it’s like a 1/10 on the annoying scale so if it was part of the culture I wouldn’t complain, but I appreciate that people leave me alone unless they actually need a work product from me.)

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      The other thing I am wondering is about the history of this hard year. Was your predecessor a friend of theirs who was let go, or had either of them/ a friend of theirs been passed over for that job?

      1. Specialk9*

        It’s irrelevant. The OP is working too hard to be understanding as it is (They’re “just are not in the habit of cultivating a positive relationship with a superior”?! Oh honey, just, no. You’re being played, and playing yourself for them.).

        They are openly hostile. They need to straighten up or find new jobs.

        1. Artemesia*

          Absolutely. The only question is how to approach this. Some observing and one on ones will help gauge if it is reparable or if new supervisors need to be appointed. Just demoting them may in fact align the entire office against the OP. This needs to be approached strategically and with confidence. It needs done; it needs done successfully.

        2. Bostonian*

          Where do you see “openly hostile”? OP doesn’t say that they ignore OP or say mean things. If it was “I’m saying ‘hi’ and don’t get a response” that would be one thing. But it’s not, it’s “they don’t say hi to me or ask me how my weekend was” (rough quote).

          1. Specialk9*

            “Two supervisors who report to me are very unfriendly to me. They give one-word responses most of the time. They don’t say hi or bye unless I really go out of my way.”

            1. Sue Wilson*

              We’re all reading that quote @Specialk9. We just don’t agree with you that it should be considered hostile behavior.

            2. Shiara*

              It’s clear that you’re reading this fairly differently from quite a few of us. Given that every single specific example the LW listed was from a social context (saying hi or bye, asking how someone’s doing, not reciprocating social pleasantries, emphasising importance of niceness and cultivating relationships) most of us are picturing “how was your weekend?” “fine” “Is the spouse doing well?” “yes”, not “Hey, could you give me an update on the Teapot Report?” “No”

              It’s possible that the latter is more the LW’s problem than the former, but you would expect some indication that she’s not able to get information she needs, rather than just that she feels like the environment isn’t convivial enough (especially given her reluctance to try to turn it into a performance thing). Whereas some of us could easily see a situation where the supervisors are just not particularly warm or interested in building up a personal relationship but doing fine work. LW may want a different atmosphere, in which case she can follow Alison’s advice.

              1. Anna*

                Alison tends to see it as Specialk9 does and that “most of the time” isn’t just about personal stuff. There needs to be an attitude adjustment and I don’t think it’s the LW who needs it.

                1. Scarlet*

                  Yes, but the specific examples LW gives are mostly social in nature, so it’s really open to interpretation. If there were work-related examples, they should have been given because that’s actually within the purview of a manager, whereas general “niceness” is pretty subjective.
                  We focus on the social/chattiness aspect because that’s what the letter focuses on.

          2. The OG Anonsie*

            Yeah, which is… Really not a big deal. I’ve worked on teams where folks do that, and I’ve worked on teams where no one does. If the LW wants their team to be the kind that does, they can certainly foster that, but it not already being that way before she got there is hardly a failing on the employee’s end.

            1. B*

              This! They are not being openly hostile, that is how they work. The OP needs to understand how they are used to working and cannot expect all of them to change at once because they suddenly came on board. Speak with them and see what they have to say about things, you may be quite surprised at what that reveals. However, you also need to let yourself be open to hearing these things and understanding their point of view.

        3. Sally Sue*

          I think you are being incredibly hostile. There is no evidence that the employees are not saying goodbye or hello in response to OP. There is also no evidence that their one word answers are in response to work issues that require elaboration. As a matter of fact, I think this is a situation where an extrovert manager doesn’t know how to handle/deal with introvert employees. All of us are just reading into the context of the post and I believe if we heard OP’s employees side of the story, we’d have a fuller picture with more context.

        4. TrixM*

          The circumstances are NOT irrelevant. If the OP was appointed as a replacement for a previous (popular) staff member, then there may well be some coldness. I think the OP is being politically naive if they don’t know the circumstances or if they’re disregarding them.

          This topic is a bit dear to my heart, since 7 out of my team of 10 were “made redundant” last year after a new manager was hired as a hatchet man. This past year has been awful for the 3 of us who remained, because contractors were brought in – one-for-one! more expensive! – to fill the gaps, while we three had to train those people as well as do our own jobs in which we were already over-stretched due to years of underinvestment in staff. I’ve averaged 50+ hour weeks this past year (Americans may scoff, but my employment contract says I’m employed for 37.5 hours per week – no overtime pay) and I am burned out. The year before the Big Purge was also no picnic either.

          And now the remaining three of us are to be laid off (as of last week), while the contractors remain. The hatchet man manager didn’t even have the courtesy to turn up to the firing meeting, so yes, I’m angry at HIM. (I’m actually fully aware the staff firing plan comes from the very top, but he had the authority in terms of how it was to be done.)

          Anyway, was I personally discourteous to my new (contractor) team leader and the new manager prior to the last week? No, but then they didn’t pretend to be my best buddy either immediately after they started. That kind of routine would have felt incredibly patronising.

          So at the very least, the new manager should be aware of the circumstances, and I also think the one-on-one conversations need to start immediately.

          The other possibility was that the entire department was toxic, and if the OP replaced the previous manager, the rot may have started at the top. In which case, if the remaining staff supported that manager, there are going to be constant knives in the OP’s back, which makes this “why are they so MEAN to me?” question also seem pathetically naive.

          1. One to one conversations to understand the circumstances if they are not well-understood and assess whether the staff assess the OP as blithely disregarding their awful year, and without giving very good assurances about how things will change. (And OP should just quit with “let’s be friends” thing until her performance proves itself.)
          2. Assess whether the situation is genuinely improving for them, even in incremental steps. If so, discuss the completed steps and the plan with the employees, and then encourage them to get over their sulking (not in so many words).
          3. If they were in thrall to a toxic manager and they’re toxic themselves, try step 2 and do some careful observation on whether they can be brought back into line. Get rid of them if not.
          4. If OP hasn’t bothered explaining anything to the staff (not in an appeasing sense, but in the strategic sense), hasn’t bothered finding out about the circumstances in terms of staff changes, hasn’t bothered talking to them except in superficialities, and hasn’t actually made any constructive steps to change things that caused the previous upheaval, they need to have a good look at themselves.

  6. Foreign Octopus*

    #4 The issue I have with this letter, and this isn’t a dig at the OP because many have fallen into the trap before, is that when you start working for free, it’s very hard to stop and get them to pay you because you’ve shown them that you’re willing to do the job for nothing. It’s a difficult place to start negotiating from.

    However, it’s not impossible. Alison is right. You need to be clear going into the conversation what you’re willing to offer if they say they can’t provide you with a salary and then stick to that. They’ll try to give you more work but if you take it on then you’ll be back to square one.

    I know volunteering is about giving back, helping, and the like but there comes a point where that’s just not feasible anymore and you’ve reached that point.

    Good luck, OP.

    1. Artemesia*

      There are plenty of places to ‘give back’; either cut back to where you are comfortable OR go into the meeting knowing you will volunteer elsewhere. Need is continuous; there are other places to meet similar needs.

    2. Anony*

      You also have to be willing to accept that the work you are doing may be something that the church is unwilling or unable to pay for. The solution may be getting another volunteer instead of paying the OP. Going into the conversation, the OP has to have predefined what exactly she is willing to do as a volunteer and what she would need to be paid for.

    3. accidental manager*

      On #4, the overworked-volunteer issue, it can help to prepare a kind of job description or documentation of what you’ve been doing, including approximately how many hours per week or month. If you are making a case for transitioning the project to paid work or partly paid work, collect information on what other work the church is currently paying for (receptionist? clerical? cleaning? childcare? bookkeeping?) and consider presenting the request as not so much their duty to you as their duty to the work/the clients. The leadership groups probably have not thought through the implications of not paying you and the difficulty of getting the work done any other way, so giving them time to discuss it might be helpful. Show that you aren’t assuming you’d get to keep the job if it became paid work – properly, they should post the vacancy and have interviews.

      Do you have other ideas of how to improve the workload or working conditions, either for yourself or for a team/successor? For example, if your valuable skill is interpreting, are you also using your time scheduling meetings, proofreading written materials for clients? Would the workload be less onerous for you if it was scheduled differently or located elsewhere? Are you interested in offering to train successors or to co-ordinate a program of several part-time volunteers? Do you have any ideas of how the church might find funding for the program or might collaborate with other churches or non-profits to do this outreach?

      All the suggestions in the second paragraph are completely optional, in my opinion. There is no obligation of conscience for an “indispensible” volunteer to continue until adequately replaced, although non-profit groups sometimes try to create that obligation. Giving notice where possible is polite, but not required.

  7. Luna*

    OP1- open, pleasant communication about work matters is important. But I don’t think that necessarily needs to include communicating about more personal or social topics. Some people have more reserved personalities, or just don’t like to mix their personal life with work, and I think that is okay too.

    It’s hard to judge from the information included whether their behavior is really not nice- it doesn’t sound like they are being rude or mean. It’s possible that they think the nice thing to do is to not constantly be bothering their busy manager with non-work chitchat, since some people (me!) might get annoyed by the constant interruptions.

    Every relationship is a two-way street, but as the person in a higher position with more power, you will likely need to be the one to lead by example and put in a little more effort, especially at the beginning. It sounds like you’ve been doing this so far; following Alison’s advice and building individual work relationships will hopefully help too. You’ll have to teach them what type of environment and communication style you expect from them. Most employees will keep working in the ways that they are used to until the new manager tells them what they want to be changed.

    1. Specialk9*

      I’m finding this to be a really bizarre read. OP isn’t asking to be BFFs. She’s asking that they SAY HELLO to their own manager, and do more than give single word answers to their own manager when asked about work. This is such an incredibly low bar that I’m shocked at people thinking anything else. These people are being hostile and aggressively rude to their own manager. I would have been fired in a day for that behavior.

      1. Luna*

        Do you make a point to go to your manager’s office every morning to just say hello? I definitely don’t, and no one else in my office does either. We also don’t walk all the way to the other end of the floor just to say goodbye before we leave each night- and if we tried to, my boss would probably be in a meeting anyway, or yell at us for bothering her while she’s trying to get work done.

        It’s unclear that the single-word answers are about work; my impression is the OP is trying to make chitchat and they just aren’t being as responsive as OP would like.

        1. Specialk9*

          Ah, I see, you’re imagining the manager being mad that they don’t walk over and seek her out to say hi and bye. I’m imagining they’re all already in the same place and they’re refusing even to acknowledge her, she asks a question, they give one word answers. I guess I can see your point, but it feels like everyone is second guessing the OP on “very unfriendly” and guessing she’s really actually needy and unrealistic and just doesn’t get introversion or something. Because she said they’re “very unfriendly” and lists behaviors that really do sound very rude, so I’m going with the scenarios in which this behavior is very unfriendly.

          1. Luna*

            It’s possible that it is more in line with your interpretation, but it seems unclear to me from the details provided so far. If that is the case, I agree that would be problematic! The line that stood out to me was OP saying they don’t think it’s personal but more a case of these two not knowing how to cultivate relationships with superiors, which to me seems less like personal hostility towards the OP and more a quirk of either the office culture or these employees’ personalities.

            I don’t think it’s second guessing the OP on “very unfriendly”, but friendly/unfriendly is often subjective. I once overheard someone describing me as unfriendly, when from my point of view every time I interacted with her all she did was talk about herself and I could hardly ever get a word in.

            1. Specialk9*

              I can see your point, thanks for helping me understand a point of view that originally I couldn’t see at all!

        2. LCL*

          No, my manager works in a different location. He makes it a point to come and say hi to me if he is on site here. As did my previous manager with the same office setup.

        3. Julia*

          At my last workplace, that’s what I did every morning when I came in (or when the manager came later than me, the next time I passed their office) and before I left so that he knew I was there and when I was leaving. The other people did the same. Granted, the workplace was Japanese, but this seems pretty normal to me?

      2. Shiara*

        I don’t think I said hello or good morning to any of my coworkers when I came in this morning. I don’t typically say bye either. We’re not hostile or rude, we just like to get on with our work. We will occasionally chat about our weekends/movies/things, although that’s almost always instigated by the same gregarious coworker.

        It’s not clear from the original letter (unless I missed something?) whether the one word responses are in work conversations, or if they’re the responses to LW trying to engage them in pleasantries. Since the LW doesn’t talk about their communication about work at all, but enumerates the ways in which they fail to communicate warmth or respond to social pleasantries, I think I, and a lot of commentators, are assuming that the one word responses are happening in the latter context.

        1. Femme d'Afrique*

          I’m reading it the same way, Shiara. Especially because OP also says she doesn’t think it’s personal. I read it as someone who has a (as she sees it) different, friendlier, more open way of communicating who has come across people who communicate differently. I find the letter a bit odd because the words she uses to describe her problem sound distinctly “un-office” like and nebulous: she finds them “unfriendly” and wants them to be “nicer.”

          Also, I was confused by this part. OP writes, “I don’t mean to imply that I would threaten to give them a negative review, but they really need to be aware of the fact that how they communicate, whether they are open with me, and the example they set for their reports are all things that I could consider in a performance review.”

          So she WILL base her review on their “niceness?”

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            Right, it sounds like she would take them into account in a review but doesn’t want to tell them that up front and “threaten” them with it. Which is the exact opposite of what she should be doing– it should be extremely clear up front what your employees are being rated on.

            That section actually made me very uncomfortable. In the context of the rest of it, it sounds like she may be one of those managers who feels that her reports are required to be not just friendly but friendly, being open and sharing about their personal lives and overall feelings. Which I think is a bad idea and somewhat inappropriate on a base level, but considering she’s coming into a team that already has an established dynamic of not being like this, it becomes an incredibly bad idea.

          2. Luna*

            Yeah I don’t get that either. It almost sounds like OP would give them a negative review, but just not tell them the real reason behind it? Or not give them any advanced warning or chance to improve first?

            1. Femme d'Afrique*

              That part definitely stood out for me, and that’s probably why I’m getting something of a passive aggressive vibe from the letter. And yes, I got the impression she was expecting much more than just your average cordial business relations.

              I don’t know, maybe the OP worrying about whether her request will come across as “petty” or “mean” influenced my reading of it.

              1. Specialk9*

                Yeah, it’s a good point for us all not to lead people down a path of discounting us by calling *ourselves* names, out of insecurity.

      3. LouiseM*

        So much this. At ToxicOldJob I had two or three coworkers who, when I asked them a question (sometimes work related, sometimes personal things like “what brand of cat litter do you use?”) they would take out one earbud, answer my question, and then put the earbud back in and go straight back to work. And yet on our lunch breaks, I would see them chatting away in the lounge like they were the best of friends. It was like we were back in middle school. My ex thought I was overreacting and said it was a case of an Ask vs. Guess culture clash (this was in a mid-sized Midwestern college town, with employees from all over the country) but in hindsight this was a much bigger problem than just “not saying hello.” The letter from this morning about the employee who was ostracized for attending a lunch she “wasn’t supposed to” really rang true. Of course, in my case looping in HR would have been useless since they were all part of the same clique. The OP has my sympathies here.

          1. Kate 2*

            This! I have a coworker who is nice but wants to talk at the worst possible times. Not to say that this is you, LouiseM, just an example. She wants to talk when I am staring at my computer, typing as fast as I can. Or when I am dealing with clients, and so on. She just doesn’t seem to get that I need to work when I am at work, and chatting, especially the lengthy 15 to 20 minute conversations she wants to have should wait for lunch or a slow period. We don’t really get breaks, just slower parts of the day, which is when you can relax.

    2. LCL*

      I disagree with all of the people who have responded that we can’t tell if the people are being deliberately rude.
      Disregarding the basic human interactions, what people call the hi-bye stuff, these people are giving one word answers to questions from their manager. That is deliberate and contemptuous. Even if manager made a total mistake and asked one of them about a project that they had nothing to do with, that still deserves more than a one word answer.

      1. Koko*

        She says it’s “mostly” one-word answers. Which I interpreted as meaning that they will say more when warranted. I really don’t think there’s enough information in the letter to know whether they are intentionally throwing shade or just taciturn people accustomed to a different sort of culture, where people didn’t exchange pleasantries prior to LW’s arrival.

        I agree that LW is perfectly within her rights to ask her employees to be a bit more convivial to help promote a positive workplace culture, but I disagree that what they’re doing is unequivocally “deliberate and contemptuous.” It might be, but it might not be. There’s not enough information to tell.

        Some people are naturally taciturn. Those people aren’t thinking a longer answer in their head and then purposefully shortening it to make a point. The answer that springs into their mind is just one word.

          1. hbc*

            I would kill right now for a manager who can give a one-word answer to a question that only requires one word to respond.

          2. Koko*

            That’s silly, I’ve known plenty of very effective managers who were soft-spoken or didn’t speak much. Taciturn doesn’t mean they hate speaking or resist speaking when words are clearly called for. It just means they speak concisely and they’re not the sort who fills a silence with words – a lot of people are, and both approaches are fine as long as they’re not to some kind of extreme where a person can’t ever get to a point or shut up when asked, or is neglecting to communicate important things.

            There are very few dispositions that are actually incompatible with management, and most of them are of the “selfish jerk unwilling to empathize” variety than just outlook and communication style differences. Pessimists, optimists, introverts, extroverts, chatterboxes, strong silent types, they can all be good managers if they’re committed to it.

      2. TakeASeat*

        I don’t think the OP is asking questions about work projects if they can be answered in one word. I imagine something like “So, have a good weekend?” “Yep” “Any plans for tonight?” “Nope” “Did you catch the game last night?” “Nope”. I also imagine these employees are 1) not wanting to be interrupted while working or taking a break at work 2) not wanting to be besties with new boss and/or 3) getting irritated that they’re constantly being subjected to small talk and OP isn’t taking the hint with short answers to leave them alone, but probably doubling down on it instead.

        1. tigerlily*

          Even in the scenarios you’ve supplied here, that’s still comes across as incredibly rude. She’s their manager, they don’t get to just decide she needs to “take a hint and leave them alone.” And look, it’s one thing to totally brush off your coworkers that way – though that’s not great either – but I just can’t fathom being rude to a manager in that way.

          1. Specialk9*

            I’ve been running possible questions from a manager through my head all day, and can’t come up with many for which a one word response isn’t rude. Even the rare options when only one word says the key stuff, most people would add words to not be rude, and to acknowledge that they’re the manager and may have input.

            Q: “Hey, did you respond to that customer question about teapot glaze crazing?”
            A: “Yes.”
            vs “Yes, I sent it this morning.” (The very short version), or
            “Yes, I got back to her this morning and told her the usual about our glazes, and gave her my contact info if she had more questions. Was there anything else you wanted me to do on that request?”

            Q: “How’s that XYZ task going?”
            A: “Fine.”
            vs “It’s going fine, I’m working on the spreadsheet and going to meet Wakeen next to talk through how that will impact the sprockets.”

            Even socially, the bare minimum that humans do when stuck together in a small space:
            Q: “How was your weekend?”
            A: “Good.”
            vs “Oh, good, thanks, taking it easy, you know, how about you?”

            The one-word answers have this social subtext of ‘please, can you just F off already?’.

            1. SS Express*

              Agree. When your boss asks if the Penske file is on track, even though it’s technically a yes/no question, she doesn’t usually want a yes/no answer – she’s asking for a quick update on the status of the Penske file. Because when *her* boss asks about the Penske file, she doesn’t want to say “it’s on track…but that’s all I know about it”.

              1. nonegiven*

                Then ask it as open ended not as a yes/no question.

                Not “Is the Penske file is on track?”

                “Walk me through where we are on the Penske file.”

                1. Tangled*

                  I’m not buying it. Yes, they could use an open ended question but (in my work situation at least) the convention of having a manager asking for a general update on a project in this manner is extremely common/the default. Not at least attempting to respond to the underlying question behind the is going to have a high probability of being perceived negatively. That negative impression isn’t necessary going to be that they are rude/obstructionist. Depending on the dynamic of the interaction, they could as easily be viewed “not getting the point” or “being clueless/socially awkward.”

                  In my opinion, regularly responding to work inquiries with one word responses would trigger a conversation on them needing to better meet communication expectations. The fact that it is a supervisor doing this to their manager makes it more concerning to me. I would assume a supervisor would have figured this type of communication norm out already.

            2. JM60*

              “The one-word answers have this social subtext of ‘please, can you just F off already?’.”

              One word answers often signal that the person isn’t very interested in prolonging to topic/conversation, but if you’re interpreting it as equivalent to them telling you to “Just F off already,” then I think you’re being very unreasonable. If anything, unless it’s said in a hostile tone, it’s more of a polite, “I’d like to end this conversation please,” rather than a rude, “F off.” Of course, how it’s delivered always matters.

          2. JM60*

            Those scenarios don’t come across as rude to me. Although, I suppose anything can come across as rude of said in the wrong way.

  8. Kate*

    I’m not sure I understand the resentment behind number 5. When I talk with business partners or clients outside of my company, I sometimes refer to “my developers” meaning the developers at my company who are working on this project. “My” can equally mean “this group that I belong to” instead of “this group that belongs to me”, just like how the OP refers to “my peers” without presumably thinking she’s elevated above them. If the manager is otherwise looking down his nose at employees, I understand the frustration, but saying “my team” on a conference call wouldn’t raise any flags with me.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yep. My boss. My colleagues. My kids. My spouse. My team. It’s not a dig!

      (Other things may be! But “my” used in normal way isn’t one of them. Tone of voice when saying it could be though.)

      1. Anony*

        I don’t see it either. My team is a normal way for a manager to talk. My people is a little weird but does not imply anything bad.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah, I didn’t see reason for resentment either. I was assuming Bitch Eating Crackers… The mention of him loudly conducting business in the middle of everyone made me think OP finds him very difficult in general.

      2. Lucky*

        I get that, but I find it weird and offputting for a coworker – someone on my team with my same boss – to refer to “my team” or “my boss” when I am part of the conversation. It would be like talking to your sister and saying “my mom.” I get it, Becky, she’s my mom too.

        I have a coworker who does this constantly, in a way that gives the impression that she’s trying to pump up her image and role. Like, she’ll tell her internal client “I’ll get my team to look into that and get back to you” when she means “I will look into this and get back to you because this is squarely my job and I do not have support staff or anyone else to delegate to.” It’s really annoying, but I’m totally BEC with her. Maybe others don’t think it’s weird.

        1. Agathe_M*

          My brother does this!

          And I can confirm, it is weird and irritating to hear him talk about “my dad”, especially when it’s just the two of us talking. I called him on it, a lot, years ago, and he was all, “but it’s accurate?” … Dude. Not the point.

          He still does it; I’ve given up.

          1. Specialk9*

            Oh that’s so weird! Two siblings talking about their mutual parent, and one keeps referring to him as “my dad” is very petty indeed.

          2. Lucky*

            Ha! My sisters and I have a running joke – if one of us uses “my mom” or “my dad” in a story told to a group where another sister is present, that sister will say “Oh my gawd, what a coincidence, my dad does XYZ too!” It’s pretty funny – feel free to try it with your brother.

            1. Agathe_M*

              You may not see this but I’ll give that a try :)

              It bothers me less in group settings, but when it’s just us? It’s like the possessive is just built-in and he can’t switch contexts or understand why he should. I swear, it’s the weirdest thing.

    2. Arya Snark*

      I don’t get it either. I frequently have conversations and refer to the group I manage as “my team” and I’m not sure how else I could describe it. It’s the same kind of language everyone else on the management team uses, including the owner, when referring to various groups in the company whether it’s the development team, the sales team, the ops team, the customer service team, etc. When I’m asked, “Arya, please have your team do X.” by my boss, how else am I supposed to answer? I’m not placing myself as a king/queen among the common employee – I’m managing a team of people and I’m accurately describing that situation. It’s not self-placement of my prominence, it’s me doing my job and discussing it with people who I work for that need information about whatever it is they are asking me about. OP seems a little sensitive regarding either this manager or the management role in general.

      1. accidental manager*

        “Please have your team do X”
        Other possible responses could include:

        “We will get right on that”
        “Our team is very busy but we will find time”
        “Our people are experienced with this”

        I agree with the commenters who suggest that it’s not the one phrase in isolation. I suspect that if the overhearing team overheard a lot more that showed the manager appreciated them and was talking up what they did, they might not be as bothered.

    3. dr_silverware*

      My guess is, either the LW feels disempowered in other ways and this is sort of the verbal symbol of how they feel, or they have a sensitive nose for condescension. I have that sensitive nose myself and can get easily annoyed by perceived condescension so I know the feeling–even if I know it’s a false positive it’s annoying. The resentment there is a sense that you’re not being respected, but the only solution is to reset your perspective and make sure you examine what’s going on so you know whether the resentment is warranted.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        From the way LW describes the boss sitting, talking and being, it seems that the manager may have become LW’s “boss eating crackers.”

    4. SarahKay*

      For that matter, I talk about ‘my company’ and ‘my site’. Spoiler alert – I am not, in fact, the CEO of a global company, or the landlord of a hugely expensive teapot-repair site.
      My guess is that the manger’s tone of voice and/or general irritation with the manager have generated OP’s annoyance at what I would say is totally normal usage of ‘my’.

    5. Djuna*

      The only time I can remember something like this that I was irritated by was when a dude from another team referred to people he did not manage or supervise as “my staff” (in extremely pompous fashion). He was your typical blowhard, and that was a signal to me and everyone else to take every utterance from him with several sackloads of salt.

      My boss says “my team”, and I’m pretty sure my coworkers do too, whenever they’re referring to us as a group.
      I’d be more wary of someone saying “the team” or “this team” instead of “our team” or “my team” – why the need for distance?

      I agree with everyone else that there must be more going on, and this is just the thing that pushed OP#5 to their BEC point. Loud, performative conference calls in an open office are never fun – I guess maybe OP feels like their boss is making them look bad or complicit in the loud showboating by referring to his team all the time?

    6. Princess Scrivener*

      I think the intention / tone of #5’s manager is what’s important. I had an arrogant supervisor in the military who always referred to me as “my Airman.” Ugh, she was so condescending, I can still hear her tone. Her smugness and hunger for power just highlighted her insecurity, but I felt so belittled, it was hard to keep an open mind.

    7. The OG Anonsie*

      I’m guessing the boss is condescending and/or controlling in other ways, and this is just one straw in the haystack that’s easier to describe.

    8. Tazimodo*

      I have heard this complaint before, and I want to be sensitive to other people’s, uh, sensitivity, but I honestly don’t understand how one would refer to their team without saying “my.”

      1. please*

        I honestly don’t understand how one would refer to their team without saying “my.”


        1. Tazimodo*

          I guess. Might come off as a little awkward when talking to someone outside the team or organization, though.
          “Hey, who can do task x?”
          “I’ll see if our team can do it.”
          It’s just a little less clear. Not impossible to decipher, but slightly more likely to cause a little confusion because the asker is not part of the “our.”
          Maybe just nitpicky semantics, though.

            1. tigerlily*

              I just don’t really get why it’s a problem, though. If this weren’t a work scenario and you were replying with “I’ll see if my family could do that” no one would think that sounded weird at all, and no one in your family would feel like you were acting like their owner.

              “My” doesn’t refer to ownership in these instances, they refer to relationship. My family is the family I am a part of, my team is the team I am a part of.

        2. Arya Snark*

          And when you’re talking to another manager/dept head/director/whatever about a joint project and hashing through who is doing what on a project, how do you refer to the team you manage and what they are going to be responsible to deliver? How do you describe the accomplishments/tasks/timelines/etc of the team you manage to another manager that doesn’t have any part in the group you manage? “Our” doesn’t make any sense in many situations.

        3. Koko*

          I say “our team” when talking to another member of my same team, but “my team” when I’m speaking to someone outside the team. (I’m not the team leader.)

          They both have two overlapping meanings in English and I think either is fine, really.

          My team = the team I own, or the team I belong to

          Our team = the team I belong to, or the team you (listener) and I (speaker) are on together

          In my brain I happen to connect “our team” more closely with the second meaning – I think of “our” as an inclusive pronoun that includes the listener – so I favor “my team” as it reminds me of “my basketball team” and other sports teams I was on as a kid.”

          As a copywriter I’m always trying to center the reader and I am actually hyper-aware of this dual-meaning with the pronouns, because it’s the reason I avoid using “our” in copy. While some may hear the inclusive meaning that I hear, others might hear the non-inclusive use of “our” – like “our year” meaning “our company’s year, and not you, reader’s year” instead of “the year we all, the company and you, had.”

    9. Llama Grooming Coordinator*

      I think the real issue happens to be that the boss put his desk in the middle of everyone and takes conference calls loudly – or at least that’s how LW perceives the situation. (Emphasis on “perceives.”) The new manager is already making his bossiness conspicuous from their view, so the singular possessive tense is just reinforcement of the fact that he is There and The Boss and Cannot Be Escaped. Overall, I think if the boss’s presence were less…obvious, LW would care less as to whether the boss eating crackers (which is a brilliant turn of phrase) refers to the team he’s managing as “my team,” “our team,” or “my homies.”

      It’s a bit of a digression from your question, but basically, I think that the reason it matters to LW is because LW already thinks their boss is a jerk for whatever reason.

    10. SS Express*

      I think it really depends on the exact context, and it totally also depends on what the boss is like in other regards. I had two different roles, under different managers, in the same department at my old job. When I worked in Teapot Sales our boss was a great leader who valued and respected everyone in the team and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when the situation called for it, and he’d say things like “this is SS, she works with me in Teapot Sales” and “our Teapot Sales coordinator SS can help you with your query” and “our team is currently working on xyz”. When I worked in Teapot Marketing the boss was, um, pretty proud of herself for being the boss and didn’t deign to pay any attention to things that were Not Her Job, to the point that she’d need a 30 minute briefing before signing off on the simplest thing because she didn’t have the necessary background knowledge, and she’d say things like “this is SS, she works for me” and “SS, who works for me, can help you with your query” and “my team is currently working on xyz”.

      I’m sure there are also good managers who talk about “my team” and bad managers who talk about “our team”, but I also think it’s sometimes the little things that say a lot.

  9. Pollygrammer*

    #1–can you arrange some kindnesses that require answers? “I’m bringing in donuts tomorrow, what kind would you like?” “We’re ordering office supplies, do you want anything fun?” Woo (bribe) them with something other than verbal pleasantries. :)

    1. Specialk9*

      Oh heck no. She’s bent over far enough for them. She needs to be less nice and less accommodating, by a lot.

    2. wayward*

      Setting up a situation where it’s to their advantage to give more than a one-word answer sounds like a good idea. Maybe you could also try asking questions that can’t be answered with just a yes or no.

  10. Phoenix Programmer*

    I feel that the theme of the internet right now could be “clearly communicate your boundaries and don’t resent people who cross imaginary lines you don’t communicate.”

    Good luck #4

    1. Specialk9*

      Shhhhhh don’t give away the secrets!!

      But Using Your Words is bloody difficult. Because sometimes the trick is to keep your mouth the heck shut.

  11. Sarah G*

    Alison – For letter #1, I’m wondering if you’d recommend some language/verbiage? You’re so adept at suggesting how to word things, and I’m curious what wording you’d suggest here.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I’m not Alison, but I’ve coached people on showing up to others in a more friendly and open manner. Here’s an example for someone that comes off as cold or unwelcoming:

      “I’ve noticed that when you’re working with me, you’re coming off as chilly and unapproachable. For example, you don’t say hello and when I ask you questions, you give me one-word answers like “Fine” and “OK.” When I try to draw you out, you make it clear that you’re not interested in that.

      That’s a problem, because the overall message I’m getting from you is “I don’t like you, go away, don’t talk to me.” That’s not reasonable to expect of anyone you work with, and least of all your boss. Talking to each other is an important part of how we work together because it’s how we share information and work on problems. If you take this tool away, you’re going to be less effective and over time, it’s going to be damaging to how I perceive your work overall.

      Going forward, can you commit to being more receptive to conversation and giving more substantial answers to questions? If not, can we talk about why and address that issue?”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is good! I might change “it’s going to be damaging to how I perceive your work overall” to “it’s going to damage your ability to get the results you need in this role” — because that’s really what it’s about.

      2. Sarah G*

        Thank you, NW Mossy & Alison. I like your combined suggestions. I might take out the part about “you don’t say hello” but overall the wording is great. It’s a tricky topic to broach with someone.

        NW Mossy, I’m curious how often you’ve seen substantial changes in this type of behavior, after giving the person feedback? I’d be interested to know if it’s something people are willing/able to change to the degree necessary. Thanks!

  12. Trout 'Waver*

    I really hate the forced hi/bye thing. I had a coworker who would cheerfully say ‘good morning’ to everyone every morning. The coworker would then catalog people’s responses back and gossip about the ones who weren’t cheerful enough or *gasp* absent completely.

    1. Greg M.*

      oh god. like I clench up just thinking about it. and you know the next day they just get right in the face of the people who didn’t reply and make a big deal. I would never greet this person.

    2. Specialk9*

      Right but that’s really not what’s going on here. A manager whose direct reports won’t even say hi to their own manager, and who spit out single word answers about work? That’s hostile, aggressive, contemptuous behavior.

      1. Ainomiaka*

        You seem really invested in the idea that they are waaaay more hostile than I am hearing from the letter. Most days I don’t say hello or goodbye to my manager or supervisor. They don’t sit by me. Am I supposed to go find them to avoid being aggressive and contemptuous?
        Also, is saying fine when someone asks aggressive and hostile? It’s one word.

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          I think a general hi and bye to the office at large and then a cursory one when you’re leaving is fine. It seems a bit much to go out of your way to find someone to say goodbye when they’re not around, but I suppose it depends on the office culture.

          As for just saying fine in response to how are you? I find that abrupt, and a little rude but it really does depend on the tone. If it’s a cheery, airy fine that that’s not a problem, but if it’s short and sharp then it is a problem. Tone and delivery matter.

          And really, is it so difficulty to add a thanks to the end of the statement? (That’s not aimed at you Ainomiaka, more a general question to the universe.)

          1. Ainomiaka*

            Yes, I was thinking of answering “How are you? ” I agree that adding thanks is kind, but as you say a breezy “oh, fine” doesn’t come across as rude to me. I also just. . . Am not and don’t want to be friends with my manager or direct reports. I think it has potential for badness written all over it.

        2. please*

          The OP uses the term: ” very unfriendly to me.”

          That’s very bad.

          If you think the OP is misusing the phrase “very unfriendly”, have at it. But Specialk9 is just going from there.

          1. JM60*

            The OP uses the phrase “very unfriendly to me”, but when she describes their behavior towards her, she doesn’t describe anything unfriendly. Of course, this is heavily dependent on tone.

            1. Specialk9*

              My original read was of people in close proximity and interacting. Others imagined them physically separated. That does actually change it radically.

              Someone not saying hi when you’re right there and talking to them is extremely rude, and that was why I reacted so strongly. Someone not walking down the hall to say hey each day is actually pretty reasonable, and wouldn’t even bug me.

              One word answers though are not great no matter what.

              1. JM60*

                “My original read was of people in close proximity and interacting. Others imagined them physically separated. That does actually change it radically.”

                I mostly disagree. I don’t think proximity changes it as much as you think. The guy who sits in the cubical behind me spent all day about 5 feet from me, yet neither of us said hi or bye to each other. Neither of us were rude by passively not initiating pleasantries with the other, and we get along just fine with each other.

                “Someone not saying hi when you’re right there and talking to them is extremely rude, and that was why I reacted so strongly.”

                If someone completely ignores you when they hear you say something to them, then yes, it’s rude to ignore someone like that. But OP1 wasn’t lamenting being ignored, they were lamenting one-word responses. There’s a huge difference between being ignored and having someone response to your greeting with a one-word response of, “Hello”. It’s not the most enthusiastic response, but unless it’s said in a rude tone, it’s very far from being rude, much less “openly hostile and contemptuous.”

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        While there are other obvious problems in this particular pair, the judging people on when and how they say hi/bye is incredibly petty.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I read the hi/bye thing as an attempt to paint the picture overall. I agree it doesn’t matter on its own. But one-word responses “most of the time” would be a huge deal in most management positions.

          1. The Supreme Troll*

            Alison, you’re right, but this is something that will take time to change; it cannot be forced to change heavy-handedly. I think the OP needs to work on gaining the trust of her staff, and that will help let their guard down.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That might be! But in the meantime, if they’re giving her one-word responses on work topics where she needs substantive engagement from them, she really does need to address it and make it clear that’s not workable. They’re adults and they’re in positions of responsibility — it’s reasonable to expect them to pull it together to have professional conversations with their boss, regardless of what their internal feelings may be.

              1. The Supreme Troll*

                Very true. The OP should be mindful of her tone in how she communicates to her staff, at the same time making it clear that they are a team who work together to be the best possible for their company. The points you make above are absolutely correct, but I just think that in the way she possibly watches her tone, it will get those to work for her to trust her more and for her to get thorough responses that have the full info that she needs (without having to pull teeth, so to speak).

                However, for all that I said, the OP doesn’t have to tolerate employee(s) who are undermining her or making the depts.’ goal purposely difficult to reach forever. She should take note of the quantifiable undermining behavior and take disciplinary action.

      3. Arya Snark*

        Exactly, Specialk9. While I don’t think the hi/bye thing is a problem on its own, combine that with the one word answers regarding everything else and it’s indicative of a larger problem. It’s a problem I’ve dealt with (and still am) with one of my reports and it is hostile. Others have noticed and asked me about it as well, especially when the person doesn’t greet me but greets everyone else warmly and gives me one word answers while responding at length with others.

      4. Kate 2*

        The red flag for me that the OP’s judgement may not be accurate is that she *specifically* and *separately* mentions that they don’t ask her how she is doing. Separate from her upset that they don’t say hi AND bye. So she wants them to:

        1) Say hi
        2) Say bye
        3) Ask her how she is doing
        4) Give multi-word answers more than some of the time

        That’s a bit much.

    3. Not Tom, just Petty*

      I solved this problem (and it was) by walking into the middle of our 8 person shared area and saying “good morning, everyone.”
      Every day.

    4. Bette*

      Yeah, I rarely say hi or bye, and am annoyed by people who place a ton of stock in those things. Yet somehow I am still nice and polite! Just not manically cheerful.

      1. Allison*

        Yeah I don’t say anything when I get up and leave. Partly because it seems insensitive to the people who have to stay late. Some of the people on my team have duties that require them to stay after hours, and if I draw attention to myself cheerfully leaving at 5, they might resent me.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah I used to slip out without saying anything partly because I had a few coworkers who would use “good night!” as a way to start a conversation about everything that had happened that day and needed to happen the next day. “Oh did you finish that report? Remind me tomorrow we’ll need to talk to Boss about the next steps!”

          Also, when I have to work late and people cheerfully say goodnight while walking past me, it does kind of get on my nerves a little. It definitely got on the nerves of an old boss of mine, who worked late and hated that others had the freedom to leave on time, so I just left.

    5. Bostonian*

      I don’t think there’s enough information to know what these exchanges really look like. Are they not going out of their way to say hi, or ignoring OP when they see OP?

      Are the one-word answers terse because the questions don’t require more explanation, and are they delivered in a non-aggressive tone, or are these employees sighing and rolling their eyes, too? There’s not a lot of objective detail about what these encounters look like to say for sure they’re being particularly nasty.

      I’ve definitely known people who unfairly hold others to their own standards of politeness (“I mentioned to Lucinda last week that I was going horseback riding this weekend and she never followed up to ask me how it went-how rude!”), and I’m actually NOT seeing any of that in OP’s letter. But I’m also not really seeing anything that raises alarm bells with the coworkers’ unfriendly-seeming behavior.

    6. Allison*

      I remember in my first job, part of my PIP included saying “good morning” instead of just “morning” when I came in. The PIP itself was justified, but some of the things I had to do were kind of silly, like I wasn’t allowed to get water for myself, if I got up for water I had to offer to refill everyone else’s water bottle.

    7. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      Ughhhh – this reminds me of when I used to work at the reception desk of a company. The desk face just slightly away from the entranceway and was quite a ways a way. Whenever anyone came in, I would look up – turn slightly so that I was facing the entryway. If the person was looking at me, I would always say hello or good morning or whatever. However, if the person wasn’t looking at me (which would mean they were angled slightly away and making a turn around a corner – so that their back was to me) I wouldn’t say anything. Because it was weird – like shouting “Hello” at someone who’s not even facing you.

      Got dinged on that in review. I tried to follow through with it, but was so awkward. Mostly I was just saying hello to someone’s back.

  13. Greg M.*

    letter 1. wonder if they’re like me and socially exhausted and just want to do their work. like you’ve not described them being mean. you’ve not said they’re giving snide remarks or making nasty looks or anything like that. Is their work good? are they getting it all done? are they actually being mean? then maybe just accept that they aren’t social and let it go. Not everyone wants to be a social butterfly, nonsocial people can do good work too.

    Like here’s the thing I work retail and burn through all my spoons being “Social Greg” on the salesfloor with customers. When I’m on break or in the breakroom I’m trying to recover a bit there’s always those coworkers that decide I’m their break room entertainment and starts trying to talk to me despite me staring at my computer and being focused on that. And if I do engage and answer it’s never enough, there’s no “question quota” that I can just answer and be left alone. and frankly after years of extreme bullying through school nosy personal questions make me anxious. Someone “going out of their way” to make me say hi back sounds utterly exhausting.

    and before you ask, I’m doing fine, every single customer already asked me and so did half my coworkers. and if anyone ever says “they’re ok” never be like “just ok that doesn’t sound very good”

    Also anytime I talk about social issues and working retail someone starts telling me to quit my job. don’t be that guy.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I googled burn through all my spoons and it let me to pain management.
      Can you explain the spoon metaphor?

      1. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

        It came from someone describing living with a chronic condition. Short answer is you have so many spoons in your drawer at the start of the day and each activity is you ‘spending’ a spoon. When you are out of spoons you are out of energy. So one has to be careful how they use/spend their spoons or they’ll run out before all the necessary activities are done. Being out of spoons means that you are out of energy/ability.

        1. Specialk9*

          Please note that many of us with chronic illness get annoyed when able bodied people talk about their spoons. Because when one has spoons for either showering or making breakfast, someone using the spoons metaphor to mean ‘kinda a bit tired’ instead of ‘and now I cry and rest in bed for hours’ seems insensitive.

          1. oranges & lemons*

            Yes, in a way it’s not dissimilar to other casual borrowings of health-related terminology. My understanding of the spoons metaphor is that the main point is the spoons are a relatively finite resource. Most able-bodied people take for granted that even when they’re tired, burnt out, stressed, etc, they can still push themselves if they really need to and they won’t really suffer any consequences, so I think it’s hard to grasp the frustration and effort needed to constantly strategize to conserve your resources.

            1. Greg M.*

              and even if you’re able bodied you might still have finite mental resources and anxiety issues. it’s not so cut and dried.

              1. Scarlet*

                Yes, it’s also routinely used in the context of mental illness, depression, etc. Sorry, but you can be “able-bodied” and struggle with mental illness. I don’t see how the spoons metaphor is insensitive in the context of depression, anxiety, etc.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        It’s a metaphor originated and used by people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, where the spoons are units of how much energy you have that day. If you use up all your spoons, then you can be too exhausted, either mentally or physically, to do anything else. So you ration them.

        You start the day with say, ten spoons. Doing customer service takes five spoons, dealing with coworkers takes two, which leaves you with three to get your shopping done and deal with family. Some days you may need more spoons for certain tasks than others. If you’ve already spent seven spoons on doing customer service and you know you’ll need the rest to get through the day, you probably won’t want to use them up socially engaging with your coworkers.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          Thanks, everyone. That is a really great idea. I was struck by some things taking more than one spoon. As I read your explanations first, I thought, “I get it. Greeting people is one spoon. A staff meeting is your next spoon.” The part about using multiple spoons on one or two things freaks me out. What if i allot one and it takes three? OK, this is all about prioritizing. And knowing when to quit.
          I like it.

          1. Greg M.*

            exactly and the metaphor carries over to introversion and social anxiety as well. and it’s really hard to plan spoons, for example is today one of the days my mom randomly decides to start interrogating me about my thesis? Is today the day I get the customer who demands to know things that aren’t their business like where I go to school and stuff? Is today the day where I have to sit on hold for talking to the student loan people? so I try to conserve them where I can.

  14. ProximaCentauri*

    For #1, I think a new manager assimilation exercise would be of value. For those not familiar, that’s where a facilitator guides a session in two parts. In the first part, the manager leaves and the facilitator ask the team what questions they’d like the new manager to answer (manger can veto certain topics ahead of time, e.g., won’t talk about politics). The manager then comes back to the room, and the facilitator asks the manger the questions — but with no names attached. I would probably do the session with the entire extended team, not just her direct reports.

    I’ve done this for new roles and found it to be a great way to break the ice and get camaraderie going. Given the angst in the organization, it will help establish some expectations and trust in a non-threatening manner.

  15. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

    I think OP 1 is dealing with a significant morale problem more than a lack of pleasantries. I would guess that it’s leaking out into the team at large as well. What are you observations of your team’s dynamics as a whole? I ‘m guessing the mood doesn’t stop at the managers.

  16. Artemesia*

    Love the answer to #1. It is about a culture and it is about effective managing that cannot be happening with surly non communicative supervisors. so first observe and reflect then come up with a strategy to improve the culture. A lot of one on ones with the supervisors including making clear the collaborative culture you need while acknowledging that people are reeling from a tough year is a start. And the focus on interaction and working together at every level is critical.

  17. Hello...ello...ello..ello..llo..llo..lo*

    OP 5, comes across as pretty hostile, I’m guessing there’s way more going on other than the way the manager refers to the team in conversation. With that being said, to answer the original question, this is totally normal and the OP is weirdly off base about this.

    I would ask how they refer to their friends or family in conversation? I’d bet cash money that they refer to them as “My Friends/Family”, why would the boss referring to the team as ‘his team’ be any different? In fact, doesn’t the OP say “I have a new manager” is it demeaning to him that the OP count’s him as a possession grammar wise? I’m curious as to how the OP thinks the team should be referred as.

  18. soon 2be former fed*

    Take the Op at her word. She knows unfriendly when she feels it. And being introverted doesn’t mean you reply to people in monosyllables. No body is saying the hostile supervisors need to be besties with the manager, but their coldness should not inhibit communication either. I bet there is an underlying issue, one or both thinks they should be manager, or there is scar tissue with the recent dysfunctional. See how they interact with others, and have an honest and direct chat. I wouldn’t fire for this, not yet anyway.

    1. LCL*

      Yes. When did it become acceptable for grown adults in a professional setting to have the default of not communicating? What I get from reading this page sometimes is ‘I hate email, I hate phone calls, I hate when my coworkers talk to me, why can’t everyone leave me alone?’ That is really dysfunctional. And, whether intended as such or not, really hostile.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah — I agree that the commenting section here as a whole can lean too far in that direction. I’m someone who really likes to be left alone when I’m working, but in most jobs it’s not realistic to think that you can be as much of an island as I sometimes see a yearning for here.

      2. NW Mossy*

        The most meaningful epiphany I’ve had in my professional life up to the point was to realize that my relationships with my colleagues are as important to my success as being technically skilled at my assigned tasks. When you send out vibes of “I enjoy working with you” to others, it tends to come back as things we value in our work lives – help and support when we need it, the respect of others, desirable opportunities, and more. Plus, it just feels good to know that you’re doing your small part to increase the world’s supply of pleasant interactions.

        1. Specialk9*

          YES!!! There is this myth of the misanthropic genius, but even Travis Kalanick was socially engaging to some white males. Being antisocial at work is such a career death knell in most careers. We introverts may not love socializing with coworkers, but it’s worth the investment.

    2. SL #2*

      “I’m introverted, so I don’t want to talk to you/communicate in any way, shape, or form because it’s too draining on me!” Um, no, that’s… not what that means. Being introverted isn’t a free pass for being a rude jerk. And communicating to your manager in one-syllable words/grunts/whatever and generally freezing them out is well into “rude jerk” territory.

      1. JM60*

        “And communicating to your manager in one-syllable words/grunts/whatever and generally freezing them out is well into “rude jerk” territory.”

        That greatly depends on context. Responding to “How are you?” with only the one word response, “Good”, isn’t the warmest of responses, but it’s very far from “rude jerk” territory.”

      2. Myrin*

        “rude jerk” angle aside for a second, I’d also say that if any interaction with anyone else whatsoever is so draining to someone that they’d rather not utter a single word all day, that doesn’t sound healthy. (I’m not talking about someone literally not seeing anyone else all day and being fine with that, just for the record, I totally don’t need to talk to anyone all day either.) Normal workday interaction, i. e. something like saying a few sentences to all ten of your coworkers throughout the day shouldn’t be that exhausting (outstanding circumstances like “my spouse died a few days ago and I just can’t muster the energy to say much of anything” notwithstanding, of course).

    3. paul*

      Amen. I used to think I was introverted but after reading this commentary section…I must be chatty compared to some.

      One word responses to *work related questions* aren’t typically good. Yeesh. Like yeah the hi/bye thing is w/e to me, but sometimes you actually do have to communicate with people.

      1. please*

        “I must be chatty compared to some.”


        I’m also pretty introverted, but at work there is value to practicing being a bit more social than many of us would like.

        A consistent pattern of one-word responses in a typical white collar workplace (in the US – I’m not commenting on other cultures) is unacceptable. Just because we (many people here) don’t want to run around saying hi all the time and making fake chit chat all the time doesn’t make it correct to defend the behavior the OP described or nitpick over how “hostile” these people are. They’re wrong, and the OP is right to be concerned about it.

    4. Someone else*

      The problem though is that “very unfriendly” is so subjective. So if we take her at her word on just that, we may be doing her a disservice. The examples in the letter, to me, are ambiguous at best. They could be indicators of unfriendliness. They could also be indicators of just different personalities than hers, where they’re not being “nice” but they’re also not necessarily being “mean” either. Without hearing the tone of the exchange, it’s possible her expectations are unreasonable. It’s possible if we were in the room and she turned around and said “is it me or was that not very nice?” we might say “well…it wasn’t very nice, but it also wasn’t not nice.” There is a neutral. But it’s realllllllly hard to tell from this letter. I don’t discount she feels like they’re being cold, but I think it’s worth pointing out the possibility that “nicer” isn’t the problem here. (It’s also possible the “one word answers” aren’t as frequent as they seem.) I agree with Alison. If she needs them to be more communicative when she asks for details about a project or a task, tell them she needs more details, that the one word is an inadequate response. But that’s because that’s a real problem: it’s an inadequate response and she needs more info. She doesn’t need them to be nice, per se. She does need them to be not rude, and forthcoming with work-related information. There’s a ton of space between that and “unfriendly” and it’s not possible to tell from this letter where those employees fall.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Sure, and I think it’s fine and valuable to say, “Hey, if it’s something more like X and Y, that isn’t really them being unfriendly and you’re expecting too much.” But there are a lot of comments here that are written as if the OP is definitely wrong and definitely being petty/unreasonable, and that’s unfair to the letter writer (and is a problem for letter-writers plural, because it’s a crappy response to get, particularly when people just misinterpreted your letter because you didn’t write 600 more words of examples).

        1. Sally Sue*

          But the only specific examples she provided were of a social context. She could have written one sentence stating “when I ask them about the teapot files, they only respond with one word responses”.

          I personally think communication is essential for work but OP provided no examples of how these two employees were not communicating properly when it comes to work.

      2. Scarlet*

        Yes, I think the problem I (and probably a bunch of the other commenters) have with the letter is that LW is expressing the issue in terms of “friendliness” and “niceness” and bringing in examples that do sound a bit petty like “they never ask me how I’m doing”. So it looks like she’s not really drawing a line between “need to be more chatty” and “not communicating effectively in a work context”, she’s just conflating it as “people are hostile to me”. And the examples are vague enough that we don’t really get a clear picture.

        So I think LW should definitely talk to them about necessary rules of communication in the workplace (i.e. be more forthcoming with WORK-related information, etc.), but they should really leave notions of “friendliness” and “niceness” out of it because it muddies the waters.

  19. essEss*

    The morning status meeting is a standard in my industry. It is to keep people on target and to stop roadblocks from piling up. Each person is supposed to say 3 things…. 1) what did they accomplish yesterday. 2) what is their objective to complete (or work on if it will take more than a day) today. 3) what roadblocks or assistance do they need to complete their current work. Each person’s status should last no more than a minute. No one is supposed to say “I have nothing to say” because everyone should be doing work. If you find someone keeps saying they have nothing to report, then you need to find out why they have no work to do. This allows you to rebalance work when you find some people reporting they have nothing to work on that day and also to make sure whether deadlines are going to be met.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      1) Yesterday I did my job.
      2) Today I’m going to do my job.
      3) As soon as this meeting is over, I’m going to do my job.

      It shouldn’t take a meeting (no mater how short) Every Morning for a manager to know what’s going on in their workgroup.

  20. AK*

    Not that it matters, but there’s no such thing as “possessive tense”! Tense refers (broadly) to constructions pertaining to time or specifically (in a technical, linguistic sense) to a subset of constructions pertaining to time, and there’s no widespread usage of it for any other grammatical construction. “Possessive tense” doesn’t exist in any language. “Possessives”, “possessive constructions/forms”, or “possessive case” would all be better terminology. This just me being a pedant though.

    1. AK*

      I forgot the most obvious term: “possessive pronouns”, which most accurately describes what the letter writer is talking about. Ok, I’m done being obnoxious now.

  21. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I wonder if #5 is feeling that “my team” has replaced individual recognition. On the surface, it sounds really petty and nit-picky to focus on the boss’s choice of words here, but I used to have a grand boss similar and…well, he just made it clear that he couldn’t be bothered to learn what specifically each of us did. My department doesn’t really collaborate on many on projects — we each have our niche and the incoming requests get divvied up. So whenever a project got recognition grand boss might say, “My team did a great job on this brochure” when really, only 1 person on the team worked on it. I’m all for sharing credit when it’s due and not assigning a percentage to each contributor while thanking them or giving out recognition, but when really only 1 person (or even 2 people out of 7) was responsible for the work, they should get the credit by name and not just “my team.”

  22. I'm Not Phyllis*

    “My team” doesn’t bother me, but “my people” would … I feel like it’s demeaning though it probably isn’t intended to be. Depending on who the boss is speaking to, names may not mean anything to them at all so I wouldn’t have a problem with them saying “my team.”

    But … “my people” would make me feel like a minion. Just a preference in terminology I guess.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I agree. When I say “my team”, I’m including myself on that team. But, “my people” has a completely different connotation.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        “I’ll have my person call your person to set up lunch.”

        Everyone is really focussing on that phrase, but I think the “desk in the middle of the floor” thing is a bigger deal. As is the “loud conference calls” thing. This is a new manager, and he’s pissing all over his territory, including his “people”.

  23. zapateria la bailarina*

    i don’t personally have a problem with “my team” but i can see how “my people” would be annoying and if the manager used those terms interchangeably then “my team” would end up irritating me as well.

    the manager in my company who oversees customer service refers to the customer service reps (3 women) as “the girls” or “my girls.” it’s so demeaning. finally her supervisor told her stop, but now when talking about them she does that thing where she “forgets” and then says “oh, i’m not supposed to call them that any more!” and rolls her eyes. i hate it, and i’m friends with one of the customer service reps and i know she hates it too.

  24. Anonanonanonanonanon*

    I sort of live in fear of being told at work that I need to be nicer. I don’t think I’m ever unkind; it’s certainly never my intention. But when I’m communicating about work my first thought is never “is this nice?” It’s generally “is this the information I’ve been asked for? Is it precise? Is it accurate? It is applicable? It is helpful? It is useful? Does it sound professional but not stuffy? Is it too casual? Is it too technical? Is it clear?” but “nice” doesn’t enter my mind. I don’t know if any of my colleagues would describe me as “friendly”, not because I think any of them would describe me as “unfriendly”, just because I don’t think the way I work would bring either of those words to mind. When I talk to my colleagues, I’m not trying to give the impression “She’s so nice. She’s so friendly.” I’m trying to give the impression “She knows what she’s talking about. She’s so helpful. She has useful ideas.”

    The first letter is my nightmare, which only comes to mind when I do work with someone and find myself thinking “that person is so nice!” Because then I think “oh crap, maybe I’ve erred in not prioritizing that at all”. Still, I don’t think I’m cold, and I’ll never be accused of monosyllabism. I’m probably projecting a but here, but if I worked with OP, and she told me I needed to be nicer, I’d be asking for very specific examples of my not niceness. And if I were in OP’s shoes and really found someone not nice, I’d probably want to check myself on whether the things that were bugging me were truly unkind or unfriendly, or if they might just be a personality clash with me. And I’d try really hard to make sure I weren’t taking the latter and calling the former. It’s easy to do unintentionally since we are humans.

    1. Specialk9*

      It sounds like you don’t think of originating social niceties, but if someone else does, do you support them, act like you are interested, and reciprocate as well as you’re able? People are generally ok with social awkwardness, if it’s paired with interest in others.

    2. another human*

      Your post resonates with me so much! Usually I’m very quiet and take a backseat when all my coworkers are talking (open floor plan) but I do make more of an effort to chitchat during the times when it’s just me and another coworker. I only see my manager a few times a week and usually she’ll ask “How’s it going?” Usually I’ll answer with one word (i.e. Great! Busy. Good.) unless there’s something unusual that happened at work. I hope that the OP gives her two reports a heads up and a chance before writing them up. Since she is new to the position maybe their last boss was less social. My last workplace was much bigger and there were a few other not-friendly but not-unfriendly people (including my supervisor) so I worried less about it affecting my performance reviews. Now I have to be more deliberate at my new workplace about greetings, initiating chit chat and my tone.

  25. Free Meerkats*

    I will also continue to lead by example by being very friendly and communicating thoroughly.

    Gods save me from Thorough Communicators.

    Me: “How was your weekend?”

    TC: “Well, after I went home Friday, the cat had done the cutest thing! >insert 5 minutes of cutest thing10 minute airing of grievances about former MIL (that I’ve heard before)<. I took a long bubble bath before I went to bed – have you see the new Rick and Morty bath bombs?

    … "

    Then (some interminable amount of time later):

    TC: "So, how was your weekend?"

    Me: "Quiet, I mowed the lawn and did grocery shopping. "

    I may have done other stuff, but really, who GAF?

    And I am then branded as not thoroughly communicating.

    This has been a (slightly exaggerated) true story.

    1. Free Meerkats*


      Insert between “cutest thing” and “10 minute”

      Then I made chicken and dumplings for dinner, but the puffy kind, not the slick, noodly dumplings; because my first MIL always made the noodly ones, and now I just can’t stand them!

  26. Student*

    For #5, I ran into feedback like what this OP is saying once. I think there are two different but closely-related issues. Grammar and possessives isn’t really the issue in anything but the most superficial sense, and I think AAM did the letter a bit of a disservice there.

    One, the OP feels under-appreciated and/or under-recognized for this shared work. But isn’t quite getting that into words.

    Two, the OP feels the manager is getting over-appreciated for said work. OP is also not quite putting that into words, though.

    These two issues both need to be tackled, and the solutions are completely different.

    For the first bit, the OP might need to step back and evaluate her own contribution to the work more objectively, or might have it completely right that she’s under-recognized. She needs to figure out which situation she’s in first, though. Maybe she needs to learn to share credit, and maybe she needs to learn to advocate for enough credit. Maybe a bit of both.

    For the second bit, the OP needs at least a bit of a wake-up call. This is your manager; they will get some credit for your work because they manage your work. That’s not unusual. The manager may have some role you aren’t aware of, or deeply involved in. The manager may be a complete non-contributor – but they’re still in charge of you, and you’re still going to have to learn to live within that or find a new job. OP needs to do some introspection on this – how much does she know about the manager’s role on the project and involvement on it? How much of this is just OP’s dislike of the manager manifesting as nit-picking language? It’s okay to dislike your manager and still work for him and to recognize he’s taking credit for things he didn’t contribute to – but you need to have some self-awareness and you need to pick battles strategically if that’s the issue.

    This possessives thing is a super-weak battle to fritter influence on. Spending the same capital on asking the manager to more obviously and clearly recognize team mates, for example, would be a more fruitful way to tackle one of the underlying issues that is a stronger fight, with better payoff and more likelihood of success, than trying to police his use of this particular vocabulary.

  27. BF*

    For LW#1 – I wonder how are these supervisors with the people that report to them? Are they clear, focused, etc? I think that would influence how I evaluate them. It does sound as if they are not invested in the OP as a person due to the upheavals of the previous year.
    And so, it is important that the OP separates personality differences from work differences.

  28. Safely Retired*

    #5: At least when he says “my people” he is not pretending to be doing the work himself. Used correctly – I am not saying he is, I don’t know – but used correctly this can be a way of assigning credit where credit is due. Especially when talking to a caller not familiar with the people doing the work there is no reason to be more specific that that. It can also let the boss hand out praise where everyone can hear it. If the boss says “My people did a bang-up job on your project, I’m glad it is making a difference for you” to the customer, the team members who did the work know they are being praised.

  29. Kiwi*

    Specialk9, I hope you find a great job really soon and your baby recovers very fast. That sounds like a huge amount to be dealing with.

  30. Hmmmm*

    So two senior employees had a very tough year at their job and thus aren’t being warm and friendly enough to their new boss whom they probably don’t know well enough to like or respect yet and your advice is to fire them?

  31. Iris Carpenter*

    I’m not sure we have the whole story. Why has there been a large turn-over of staff? Why Did this director’s predecessor leave? Did either of the supervisors apply for the Director’s job?

    If they think the previous director was let-go unfairly, or if either applied for and failed to get the post then I could understand their point of view. Or does the new director not have the same level of experience and subject-matter knowledge that the supervisors have?

  32. Catabodua*

    To add my anecdote:

    I was working in a department that was fine/had it’s normal amount of dysfunctions when a new manager was hired that immediately turned everything upside down with no thought put into it. They made changes just for the sake of being able to say they changed things to the big bosses. It was serious chaos. Stress levels went through the roof and lots of toxic behavior cropped up. The person was finally removed from their job after about 1 ½ years, but so much damage had been done.

    They hired a new manager into this situation and no one was interested in getting to know her or giving her a chance (which I know was unfair). She made it worse by walking around whistling in the hallways as if she was in a Disney movie, and forcing “let’s get to know each other!” stuff at the start of staff meetings which were just cringe-worthy awful. Example – during December she asked everyone in the room to go around and say what their favorite part of the holidays were and there were responses like “not having to be here” and “I’m not interested in participating in this nonsense.” Instead of dropping that from meetings, she double-downed and added a “say something nice about someone in the room” thing at the end of meetings.

    The new manager left after 6 months and they hired someone else. That person started with meetings where he asked how things were handled before, why did they work better, what worked best about the new way, etc. etc. Essentially he didn’t try to improve morale, he tried to improve work flow and lower stress levels. People responded much better because they felt like he was listening to their suggestions, and when he made decisions he told everyone what the decision was, why he made that decision, then asked people to give XYZ process some time to work.

    This is a very long winded way of saying…. For my one experience in this type of situation, friendly overtures were not welcome. Figuring out how the changes you mention have affected their work flow, stress level, and how they now have to manage their reports based on the changes may serve you better than worrying about whether they asked you if you had a nice weekend.

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