returning to an old company where I was a jerk, coworker wants to take over my job, and more

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

1. Returning to an old company where I was a jerk to people

After a bit of a job search, I have just accepted a role to return to a company I last worked at a few years ago. It’s a new role working directly with a team that I supported the last time around. While my job performance there was undeniable, I was also undeniably kind of a jerk to some of my former colleagues. As a result, they have expressed their concerns to my manager-to-be about my candidacy. My new manager is moving forward with me for the position, but he made it clear that he wants me to mend any/all relationships that may be less than stellar from my last time in the office.

As it happens, I would really like to do that, too! I think that when I worked there, I was a jerk. While I never did anything that crossed an HR line (so no harassment, discrimination, bullying, etc.), I was picky, difficult to work with, temperamental, and generally unpleasant. I feel like I have really improved as a person since I have last been there, and I want to make a sincere effort to show them that.

My question is: how exactly do I do that? I’m wary of trying to force anything on them. If they don’t want to talk to me, I feel like I should respect that. I won’t actually be working with the people that do not like me. My new role means there will be zero overlap, so there won’t be opportunities to just demonstrate how I am different through my work.

The most convincing way to show it is indeed by just demonstrating it by being noticeably different. But if there won’t be opportunities for them to see that — and especially since your boss is telling you that you need to mend those relationships — I’d go with a very direct, very humble apology. As in, “I want to apologize to you for my behavior the last time we worked together. I was unreasonable, unpleasant to work with, and frankly at times a real jerk. I’ve thought about that a lot since I left, and I’ve worked to improve the way I relate to colleagues. I hope you’ll see those changes in me, and I wanted to let you know how sorry I am for behaving that way in the past.” Depending on the specifics of your behavior with each person, there may be more you need to add, but that’s the core of what you should say.

Do this right away. If you wait a couple of weeks after starting, it might seem less sincere — at that point, they could figure that you’re only doing it because you’ve seen that their dislike of you is causing problems for you. Frankly, it still might not seem totally sincere (it may seem like you’re only apologizing because you kind of need to now that you’re coming back), but hopefully they’ll see over time that you do indeed mean it.

2. A coworker wants to take over my job (and may have thrown away my mug)

I’m the front desk person at our office. When I started, I joined a team of four other admins, plus our boss (who’s just the best). Flash forward half a year and two of the original admins have left. “Susan” was one of the new hires. Unfortunately, she’s not the kindest person. She just talks down to me like I’m very young (I’m 28, she’s a few years older). She slips in comments aimed at taking me down a peg. She tends to complain a lot. But worst of all, she has a habit of seeking validation when she’s speaking to you. She will repeat herself over, and over, and won’t end a conversation until you validate her in some way (agree with her point, give her a compliment, etc.). Still, I try to keep everything professional, light, and polite. And I understand why she feels she can talk down to me, I look very young, I’m a front desk person, and she’s a step up on the admin chain. It’s not nice, but it’s not a big deal. I get along great with everyone else in the office, and work is great otherwise.

Because of my degree and previous experience, I am our office’s creative project person. I make posters and pamphlets and all that fun stuff. When Susan started, she volunteered for the next creative project. She told us that she was the creative person at her last job. That was fine, but we found out Susan does not have the skills I do. Her results weren’t professional, and she didn’t take our boss’s suggestions or feedback well. So projects went back to being assigned to me.

Susan didn’t take it gracefully. She tried to get me to agree that her project was good and our boss was wrong, and also said I need to teach her how to use the creative programs. I was pretty evasive for that conversation. I didn’t say no, but I also didn’t put anything on the calendar. I don’t want to teach her to do the work I love doing when she clearly has it out for me, wants to replace me in that role, and doesn’t take instruction well. Is that unfair of me? Am I being too sensitive?

Also, this week I found my very distinctive-looking coffee mug in my trash can. It was a fluke I found it, because it was buried under papers and tissues. If I hadn’t gone looking for a Post-It note, it would have been thrown out overnight. I tried to recreate how it could have fallen in, but it does not seem possible it’s an accident. Since I’m on really good terms with everyone, I feel like Susan might have done it. I know I can’t tell anyone about that suspicion, and it’s such an odd, childish revenge that maybe I’m wrong. I’ve hidden the mug for now, and I’m sort of waiting to see if she asks me about it.

Nope, it’s not unfair of you not to want to teach Susan to do your work for you — in general, and especially given the way she treats you. If she asks you again to train you to use design programs, tell her that it took you a lot of practice to master them and it’s not something you can quickly teach to someone else. If she pushes, you could say, “I’d suggest doing a formal course if you’re interested.” (Not because that’s what it will necessarily take, but because you want to emphasize that you’re not going to be the person training her.)

I’d also talk to your boss and say something like, “Susan has been asking me to train her in how to use design programs so that she can do our design work. I’ve told her that it takes a lot of practice to master and there’s no way I can impart a degree in graphic design and a couple of years worth of experience to her.  But I wanted to talk to you about it too, because I really enjoy doing our design work and would like to hold on to it. I get the sense that Susan would like to take it over, so I wanted to ask you if we can officially keep it as part of my job — and if so, if you can let her know that?”

As for the mug … I don’t think there’s much to be done there other than to take it as additional evidence that Susan is a jerk. If more things like that happen, at that point you’d need to talk to your boss, but for now I’d wait and see how this plays out.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Do I have to tell my friend about a job she is more qualified for than I am?

I am currently working in my first managerial position as part of a year-long contract for a maternity leave replacement (in Canada, the land of sensible maternity leave). Though I enjoy it immensely, I have been casually job searching since I have every reason to believe that the woman I am replacing, Jane, will be returning later this year.

I have just found out that a new position has been created in my department that will rank above the one I am currently filling in both pay and responsibility. I am excited to apply. It is a very, very niche posting within our organization and preference will be given to internal applicants and union members (of which I am both).

The rub is that obviously Jane is very qualified for this position also. Presumably, given her qualifications and seniority, she would be offered the job over me. However I’m fairly certain that Jane doesn’t know about the position and is not likely to find out unless I (or one of a few people in our department) directly reach out to her. Additionally, Jane and I are friendly and have remained in contact during her leave both professionally and personally. I worry that not telling her would create tension if she felt that I was acting deceitfully or resentment when some aspects of her job fell under me upon her return. I feel obligated to tell her but annoyed that doing so could basically kill my chances of moving up in my organization. But I have to tell her, right?

I don’t think you’re obligated to tell Jane, but I’d do it anyway because it’s the ethical thing to do, especially since the two of you are friendly and in regular contact. Or you could check with your boss to suggest that your boss tells her. And really, if Jane is so obviously qualified for it, there’s a good chance that your boss has already told her about her about the opening.

You want to get the job because you’re the best person for it, not because the best person for it was on maternity leave and no one mentioned it to her. And I think you’re right that if you did get the job and were managing part of Jane’s work, you’d risk real tension there.

4. Repeating the same language on multiple performance evalutions

My question has to do with employee performance evaluations. I write evaluations for six employees, five of whom have the exact same job classification and duties. With every evaluation, I try very much to personalize and focus on the individual but I have to be honest — sometimes it feels like reinventing the wheel. Is it acceptable to use certain parts of an evaluation for multiple employees if it is a true reflection of their work/duties? I struggle with being productive/smart in my work but also wanting to make sure that each employee is treated as an individual. It feels odd to “lift,” but at the same time it is still something I have personally written and in most cases is absolutely accurate for multiple people on my team. I obviously still include detailed independent evaluation of the person’s work and their personalities/performance.

I’d try to avoid copying and pasting if you can. I totally get that you might want to communicate the same message to several of them, but if any of them ever compare evaluations, you don’t want it to look like you were phoning it in. (Which is not what you’re doing — but it’s likely to look that way to them.)

Sometimes a good way to get slightly different language for the same concept is to say it loud — pretend the person is sitting in front of you and you’re saying out loud the thing you want to say in the evaluation. Then write down what you just said. We’re usually more natural and more conversational when we talk in person and that can get you away from using the same “script” each time.

5. Withdrawing from other hiring processes after accepting a job

I’m a law student, who is about to accept a permanent post-grad position. Prior to accepting, I had been mass-mailing my resume and a cover letter to literally hundreds of firms, usually without any response. Now that I have a position, do I have an obligation to withdraw from consideration from all of these firms, or just the ones that have gotten back to me?

Just the ones that have invited you to interview. If you’ve spoken with them or if you’re scheduled to speak with them, it’s polite to send a quick email and let them know you’ve accepted a position somewhere else. You don’t need to do anything with the others; if they contact you at some point, you can just explain it then.

{ 335 comments… read them below }

  1. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 I’m sorry you’re working with someone who’s being so difficult and petty. Throwing away your mug is a really childish and personal thing to do.

    You might be able to set boundaries with her. I would focus on ending conversations rather than trying to resolve them. You could search online for the ‘grey rock’ or ‘medium chill’ technique which involves making yourself really boring to talk to so you aren’t giving the drama llama their fix.

    1. TL -*

      I don’t even know if the OP needs to go to grey rock or medium chill – a conversation, like a relationship, needs 2-party consent to continue, but only 1 party’s consent to end.

      So end the conversations. I would be direct, polite, and cheerful, “Thanks, Susan but I can’t chat anymore – my break’s over!” “It’s been nice chatting, Susan, but I’m going to put on my headphones now so I can concentrate on my work.” You don’t have to be boring; you just have to politely announce that the conversation has ended. And I do mean announce – make it awkward for her talk to you anymore.

      Same with your design projects – “It’s great that you’re interested, Susan! Unfortunately, I’m not able to train you, but there’s lots of online courses available – you should do a google search.” “Oh, you know I can’t change project assignments, Susan! One day I’ll get that kind of paycheck, right?”
      Adjust for your natural levels of bubbly and cheerfulness; if you’re a grumpy person, soften with an “I’m sorry but…” – but you can politely and happily end a conversation without being rude. You don’t need her consent; you just need to be sincere in your good-naturedness and firm in your statement.

      1. Artemesia*

        But the OP really really really needs to pre-empt this with management or she will have her job stolen. Aggressive people like the often can buffalo weak bosses. Make it very clear that you love doing the graphic work you excel at and that you don’t want to give that up and that Susan is being very pushy about wanting to do so. Or you may find the company paying for Susan’s training in graphics and ‘oh we didn’t realize you wanted to keep doing these projects.’ Susan might even say, ‘OP told me she is really tired of doing this and I’d love to get some additional training at XYZ to be able to take it on.’

      2. Kate 2*

        Yeah, but announcing that doesn’t mean she will feel the awkward. People like that don’t EVER feel awkward in my experience, even, or especially when they should. My bet is that OP will just get followed around while Susan keeps talking . . . and talking. She is going to have to tell Susan to stop talking to her when she is trying to work I think, and escalate to the boss.

      3. myswtghst*

        Agreed. This isn’t a guaranteed fix, but it is a good first step (and something I’ve had to do plenty of times in my career). It gives Susan an opportunity to display a modicum of self awareness, and paves the way for OP#2 to escalate to more straightforward responses if she doesn’t.

        Also, OP#2 should definitely still loop in their manager, especially about wanting to continue to manage the design projects and not being able to train Susan, so they have the manager’s backing if Susan tries to go around them, in addition to gently setting these boundaries now.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I have trouble picking up on nonverbal cues in conversation. So I tend to react to the literal meaning of the words and not the implied meaning.

      Like my mother saying ‘Do you want to empty the dishwasher?’ when she means ‘Please empty the dishwasher.’ and me simply going ‘No.’

      So a lot of the time when people try to be subtle about implying something $ist or fishing for compliments it goes right over my head.

      Must be very frustrating for drama llamas. When they go on and on about how awful something is and I just go ‘Yeah, sucks. What about that $work thing we’re supposed to talk about?’ without providing the expected drama fix.

      1. Mookie*

        Yep. Make their irritating conversational genre-of-choice boring, unentertaining, and frustrating for them, and they’ll gradually lose interest or start to improve. I wish I had the courage in these situations to say, kindly and quietly, “sorry I don’t care [with or without “+ subject change”] ” because I’ve seen this done pretty diplomatically and fairly successfully, where feelings weren’t hurt because the honesty was sincerely meant as a kind of favor. So that even though the content is shocking / disappointing at first blush, the delivery makes it easier to accept that such a statement is reasonable, not rude.

      2. sssssssssss*

        I was coaching older Scouts (112-14) to never use “Do you want to” when try to get their patrol to do things because a kid can treat that as a valid question and run with it and say No, leaving the patrol leader stuck. I tell them to ask “Will you” “Can you” or even “Please do…”

        Being too polite with your requests can results in an answer you don’t want.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          “Can you…” can go spectacularly wrong when dealing with someone on the autism spectrum. Like me.

          As an adult I have learned that “Can you…” means “Please do…” most of the time.

          When I was a kid I always took “Can you…” as the question if I was capable of doing something. And answered accordingly.

          “Will you…” can have similar interesting pitfalls.

          Personally I stick to “Please do…”, as that has the fewest ambiguities.

        2. Parenthetically*

          My favorite phrasing comes from really polite little kids: “May you please…?” It delights me. They’ve had “May I please” drilled into them so much that it comes out in requests for other people to do things as well.

          1. Lady Phoenix*

            I hated it when the teachers did the “May” versus “Can” nonsense. Like, chances are I REALLY need to use that bathroom and I don’t have time nor patience for your semantics.

            1. shep*

              I was never taught grammar in elementary school and had no idea that there was a difference between “can” and “may” as an eight-year-old. My teacher pulled this on me, with a hopeful sort of expression that I would correct myself. I (1) had no idea what he was talking about and (2) was so painfully shy that it was a borderline traumatizing line of questioning.

              ME: Can I go to the bathroom?

              HIM: I don’t know. Can you?

              ME: …Um, yes?

              HIM: *infuriating smile*

              ME: …Can I please go to the bathroom?

              HIM: I don’t know. CAN YOU?

              ME: …Yes??

              HIM: *finally breaks the infuriating smile and sighs* Sure, go ahead.

              1. Snark*

                This is one of those things that just made me want to slap fools when I was 8. Oh, thanks, Mrs. Wolf, this is great, I’m hopping on one foot because I’ve gotta pee so apparently this is JUST THE TIME for an instructive little grammar lesson.

              2. Nonnon*

                If their understanding of the English language is so limited they can’t figure out that “can” has multiple accepted meanings in this context, they shouldn’t be teaching English.

                Although I wouldn’t advise saying this out loud because the kind of teacher who pulls the can/may nonsense is most likely the kind of teacher who can’t accept a well-deserved mouthing-off from a student.

                1. shep*

                  Exactly! Except, weirdly in my case, he was definitely considered a “cool” teacher. I have mostly fond memories of him, aside from this one infuriating incident. Smh.

            2. Parenthetically*

              I’m a teacher and “may I” is very much part of what we’re expected to teach our students. I don’t really care that much. One of my favorite students and I actually turned it into a game.

              “Can I go to the bathroom?”
              “I dunno, can you?”
              “I dunno, may I please go find out?”

              Grins all around.

            3. Q*

              I had a teacher asked me what I said when I asked if I “could” go to the bathroom, and repeated myself as “may” because I was expecting it.

              Turned out he just hadn’t heard me.

          2. Charlotte Gray*

            My boss uses this. “May you please …stop by. …bring xyz when you come.” It is less delightful coming from an adult. *headdesk*

          3. GreenDoor*

            My kids do this to. I’ll remind them, “What do you say?” And I’ll get, “Please May!” LIke they want to cover all their bases. But as an adult at work I much appreciate directness. “I need you to” or “If you have time could you” which better conveys whether it’s optional and/or how much of a timeline I need to be on.

        3. HannahS*

          I particularly loathed “Would you like to…” because I felt like it required me to pretend to be happily compliant instead of just compliant. If my dad said, “Hannah, please empty the dishwasher” I could say, “Sure” but it drove me batty to hear “Hannah! Would you like to empty the dishwasher?” No, of course I wouldn’t like to, but I’ll do it anyway because I live here and you asked me to. I felt like the adults around me were perfectly entitled to my compliance with requests like that, but that it was really unfair to expect “emotional compliance.”

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yeah, I also hated that. No, I don’t want to do the dishes. I will, but don’t make me pretend that it’s fun – it’s dishes.

            1. Allison*

              That said, I do think parents need to teach kids to have a *decent* attitude when doing chores. I’ve had roommates who did chores by grunting, muttering angrily to themselves, stomping, and slamming things around, and I couldn’t believe someone could make it to adulthood thinking it was okay to act like that any time they had to wash or tidy something.

              1. Observer*

                It’s a lot easier to do that, though, if you’re being reasonable. Most kids will respond reasonably well to “you don’t have to love it, but you have to be polite” in a wide variety of situations, including housekeeping and other annoying chores.

            2. Snark*

              The other great one is “Why don’t you.” That’s my mom’s thing. “Why don’t you go help Uncle Dave with that box.” “Well, that’d be because I’m sitting over here, finishing my beer.”

              1. Penny Lane*

                “Can you do X,” “would you mind doing X,” “could you do X,” “please go do X,” etc. are all just part of standard American English phrasing around asking someone to do X — the differences are as trivial as the difference between “Thanks” and “Thank you,” or “Hi” and “Hello.”

                This reminds me of the people who are so pedantically literal that they really think that “Hi, how are you?” delivered in the hallway in passing requires a real response about how they’re worried about how they can pay the rent this month and there’s some red spot on their torso that they really should talk to a doctor about and they got an upsetting call about Uncle Leon’s health and while they are spinning with all that, they haven’t figured out that “Hi, how are you” is another version of “Good morning” and that the appropriate answer is “Fine, thanks” or some version thereof. It must be tiring to approach everything so literally.

                1. Snark*

                  The irony here, of course, is that here you are pedantically lecturing me about taking things too literally because you…..took my post too literally. I mentioned it not because I’m confused about standard American phrasing but because I find that particular phrasing irritating. But hey, thanks for pointing out the obvious in the most condescending way possible!

                  By the by, it’s starting to feel like you’re searching out my posts to lecture me on stuff, so maybe stop.

                2. Autumn anon*

                  You know what else is tiring? People expecting you to constantly understand that they didn’t mean the words that they actually said and you were meant to interpret them into something different.

                3. Louise*

                  This is incredibly inconsiderate and disregards the fact that people on the autism spectrum may struggle to differentiate between literal speech and figurative speech.

          2. Lady Phoenix*

            Could be worse, she could have said “Would you kindly….?”

            Didn’t end well for the last guy who used that line….

            (Waiting to see who gets the reference)

            1. Nic*

              I used to work for tech support for an unrelated video game company. Sometimes I’d start my instructions with that. If they didn’t get it, it was quirky but nice, and if they did…..I got such good scores! The game had been out for years, so no spoilers.

              1. LavaLamp*

                Bioshock for the win!

                My dad used to always get really weird and be like “you’re going to do this and LIKE IT!” When I was a kid. I’m not sure what my emotional state had to do with putting the dishes away. He thankfully stopped doing that as I got older.

          3. Allison*

            Ughh yes, my parents used a similar approach, training me to *want* to do the things I was supposed to, making me feel weird for not wanting me to clean my room, making me feel like a jerk for not wanting to put on girly dresses. They kept telling me a good girl would love to do these things, and because I didn’t genuinely enjoy the things I was supposed to do, I felt like I was an inherently rotten child.

            In hindsight, it may have been better if they’d said “I know this isn’t your favorite activity, but you need to do it because ____” Validates a kid’s very real feelings about chores and whatnot, but explains why they need to do it anyway which teaches responsibility.

            1. the gold digger*

              I made the mistake of admitting to a former boss (the one who decided I was the person he needed to cut when he had to cut a person from the team) that nope, I did not want to spend three weeks at each plant for the SAP go live.

              But I would.

              I never thought of that term – demanding “emotional compliance,” but it’s perfect. And it’s ridiculous, especially at work. Of course I don’t want to be away from home for three weeks in a tiny little town in Arkansas or Georgia. But I will. Because work will give me money to do it.

              I don’t even want to go to work when I can work from home in my kitchen. But I do it because they give me money to do it.

              1. Alienor*

                Emotional compliance is one of the things I really dislike about work. I have to do this project, and I’ll do it well and without complaining because I don’t want to get fired, but it always seems like a bit much for the higher-ups to expect me to be visibly excited and enthusiastic about it, too.

            2. iglwif*

              I’m sorry about your parents.

              My mom’s thing was “Would you like some [food that makes me gag]?” Followed by me saying “No, thank you,” and her *putting it on my plate anyway*.

              The good thing was by the time I became a parent, I knew never, ever to phrase something as a question unless it’s a question. This is *extremely* useful when dealing with a small child … or, indeed, a teenager lol

              1. Geillis D*

                I actually did something right as a parent.
                My own parents were all about “mind your tone”, and I don’t know what I hated more – the chores per se or the demand to be cheerful about them, dammit.

                Now I am the parental unit and have made it very clear that as long as the dishwasher gets unloaded, the critters are fed and the house is kept in a general presentable state, I don’t mind what they say, do or yell when chores are being done. I’ve also made it known that I would rather be reading, sitting on the patio with a drink or painting my toenails rather than doing housework, but I do it anyway. They are actually quite helpful around the house, even if I don’t sugar-coat chores.

                1. nonymous*

                  My parent didn’t sugar-coat the fun of doing chores, but they also maintained that being pleasant was part of the chore. No, I didn’t have to enjoy [task] but it’s not nice to make other people listen to a bad attitude, and chores are about making life easier/better for those around you. Also, that the better solution is to direct that energy into getting over with it quickly/efficiently and mitigate the experience with company or by having the radio or TV on.

                  It’s a good life skill, because even though ultimately it doesn’t matter what words are being muttered during dishwashing, as an adult I’ve definitely been in the situation where my “customer” should never have an inkling that I’m muttering internally.

          4. fposte*

            I’m just re-listening to Julian Fellowes’ _Snobs_, and he talks about the upper-class habit of couching a direction to a servant as “Would it be a terrible bore if . . .?”

            1. Parenthetically*

              Julian Fellowes’ stuff about servants and class is mind-blowing. It’s very worth watching Gosford Park with his commentary running to hear all the juicy tidbits.

              1. fposte*

                Snobs and Past Imperfect are deeper looks at slightly later periods, but he has that same mixture of, well, fawning and zoology. He’s not a great writer, and his books don’t particularly make me like him, but they’re a great window on ’60s-’80s British society.

          5. RachelR*

            My dad’s thing was, “Why don’t you empty the dishwasher?” Because I don’t want to? But of course, that’s not what he meant.

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              My dad would say, ostensibly to my mom but in fact to sort of the whole room whether anyone was listening or not, “Maybe the kids will set the table.” And by the time we were grown and home from college we’d had quite enough of that oblique instruction-giving and started trying to train him out of it. “Maybe we will, Dad. It could happen. Would you like us to set the table? How about actually saying so? Use your words.”

              A few years ago, my sister-in-law reported once that my brother had inadvertently used the “Maybe you’ll [X]” construction instead of “Could you please” or whatever, and it had horrified him so much that he’d given himself a timeout and gone to stand in the corner.

          6. Elizabeth H.*

            Maybe it is different in terms of parenting/teaching kids but I think “Would you like to empty the dishwasher” has the *exact same semantic meaning* as “Please empty the dishwasher” it is just worded more politely. I don’t think it implies any expectation of emotional compliance. In fact, the person making the request is using more polite language as a sign of respect/appreciation for you by acknowledging the idea that you have a choice about it. It doesn’t reflect how they want you to feel.

            1. the gold digger*

              acknowledging the idea that you have a choice

              Except usually, I don’t have a choice. (I sure didn’t when I was a kid, but then, my mom never asked if I wanted to dry the dishes. She just told me to do it.) Please don’t pretend that I do.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                Again, even if you don’t have the choice really, the language is more polite because it suggests the idea of choice and therefore it’s a more respectful way to ask. The social significance (politeness) of the chosen words has a separate function from the literal meanings of the words. It seems like such a childish thing to me to get hung up on the literal meanings when it’s clear what is intended.

                1. DaBlonde*

                  Except there is no choice!
                  Implying that there is a choice isn’t more polite, it only makes the requestor feel less bossy.
                  If you want them to do something, say so; if you want their opinion or input, ask them.
                  I give this advice to any first time parents that ask for tips. If you make it sound like a choice when there isn’t one you will have more arguments and misunderstandings.
                  Tell them it is time to go to bed, ask them which pajamas they want to wear.

                2. fposte*

                  I’m inclined to agree; I believe this is pretty important in languages other than English, too (I remember scandalous stories about people who ordered in French with “Je veux” rather than “Je voudrais”).

                3. Penny Lane*

                  I agree with Elizabeth H. It’s just a normal, more polite variation in English. Thinking that it’s “demanding emotional compliance” doesn’t make any sense – there is nothing about the phrase that is intended to imply that you ought to want to jump for joy at the prospect of doing the dishes. Again, what’s with the extreme literalness??

                4. Jadelyn*

                  I rather strongly disagree that it’s *more* polite to basically say to someone “I’m going to make you do this thing. But to make me feel better about ordering you around, let’s pretend that you’re voluntarily choosing to do the thing!”

                  If you’re not actually giving someone a choice about it, I fail to see how the illusion of choice is “more polite”. In fact, I would say it’s less polite, since it’s basically demanding a form of emotional labor – the person being given the task not only has to perform the task, but is also having to participate in the shared fiction that they are doing so of their own volition. And that, to me, is deeply disempowering.

                  Alternatively, you could stop trying to convince everyone that the theoretical semantics of the utterance under debate are relevant to people’s actual understanding of and experience of it, and calling people “childish” who don’t share your point of view on the subject.

                5. Jen S. 2.0*

                  In addition to the irritation of the false illusion of a choice most of the time, one reason this debate irritates me, especially when talking about using questioning phrasing with children, is that it’s important to teach children pretty early that, indeed, sometimes you don’t have a choice, especially not if you want a positive long-term outcome.

                  I think we all understand the logic of the argument, which is that technically you can indeed sit there and refuse to do something, no matter how the instruction is phrased. But the fact is that, PRACTICALLY, if your parent or boss is giving you an instruction , its being phrased as a request doesn’t make it less of an imperative, if you want to keep your job. It’s cute when a three-year-old answers the actual question that’s been asked (“Can you pick up your clothes?”), but it’s far less so when you’re dealing with a 16-year-old who will soon be part of the world of work.

            2. Lissa*

              Yeah, this is one of those things where a lot of people have really strong feelings on exact wording, often ingrained since childhood, but I tend to give people a lot of leeway in how they phrase things because my “demanding emotional compliance” is somebody else’s “softening a request” and I don’t see any real reason to get sarcastic or cute about it if I do know what they mean. If it’s so oblique I don’t well then we might have a problem. :)

              I think of emotional compliance more as getting screamed at as a kid for not having a sufficiently pleasant expression on my face while raking leaves, or my friend who got fired from a job for having an “insubordinate” facial expression! Often the phrasings are just…how people were taught was polite. Though it can be part of bigger patterns of that, which is probably why people get really negative reactions to particular ways of asking.

              1. Mad Baggins*

                Yours is the most important comment! There are lots of ways to do things and we can’t/shouldn’t MAKE everyone be polite one way or another.

                I certainly understand that semantics and vague grammar can be confusing to people on the spectrum (as well as non-native speakers, among others). But clearly each of us is considering some or more of the following when wording their request:
                -the social/business standing of the speaker and listener
                -validating one’s personhood by acknowledging their choice, as Elizabeth H said (Yes it’s sometimes an illusion but all choices we present to children are illusions…I didn’t know there were ice cream flavors besides chocolate and vanilla for 10 years!)
                – some people, especially women, soften their requests to come across more gently (ex. “Please pass me the salt?” is not a question, though tone suggests it is)
                -teaching (esp. neurotypical) children about different ways to be polite so they are exposed to a wider range of linguistic choices and are able to make these choices for themselves
                -teaching children to have a good attitude about chores, as other commenters have brought up
                -what phrases your parents used that drove you crazy
                -teaching children (and adults) emotional intelligence, and to be proactively aware of their surroundings (ex. if you know dinner is cooking, perhaps you should set the table without being asked)

                Clearly there is no one-size-fits-all approach, so “could we please” stop berating each other for preferring a different method, maybe for reasons we can’t see?

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                But the sentence “Would you like to wash the dishes?” doesn’t literally mean “You have the choice to wash the dishes or not depending on which would make you happy” and it doesn’t mean “I’m being insincere by using words that make it sound like I’m giving you a choice, but you have NO choice and must wash the dishes! Ha ha!” It means “Please wash the dishes, and I’m using language that’s understood as ‘polite form of request’ because I feel warmly toward you and therefore am not issuing a blunt command.” I’m not sure how to say this any more clearly.

                1. Louise*

                  Okay but people on this thread are telling you that this language is NOT always “understood as ‘polite form of request’” ! Like we’re all clear that you think it’s more polite, but there are lots of people saying “actually, I don’t think that’s polite and would rather someone ask me/tell me something outright.” Why is that so hard to accept?

                2. Anononon*

                  @Louise And other people are saying there’s nothing wrong with using the more polite language. Basically, language is used in a variety of ways and unless it’s just flat out offensive, sexist, racist, or homophobic, maybe understanding there is no one way to speak that will satisfy every single person’s preference and being forgiving is the best way to be.

                3. Louise*

                  @Anononon except that ignores the fact that there’s a section of the population (ie folks who are neurodivergent/have ASD) who are punished because they “aren’t polite,” when really they might just struggle with non verbal cues or figurative language or eye contact. That stigma has been glaringly prevalent in this tread (people calling folks who take things literally as pedantic or exhausting.) FWIW, I actually think that we need to have a larger conversation societally about what types of people “politeness” privileges and why, but generally I think that using language that provides the most clarity above all law should be the default, especially if you’re in a work environment.

                4. Former Employee*

                  There are very few situations where I can see that lying to someone is “more polite”.

                  One is if you tell someone they look good in an outfit they already bought and are wearing to the event and if you tell them how they really look there’s nothing they can do about it and it will just make them feel bad.

                  Another is when someone brings their new baby in to meet everyone at the office and you have to say something nice.

        4. Bullwinkle*

          One of my first bosses in high school would preface every request/order with “I’m going to let you do me a favor…” which was so annoying, as if she was doing me a favor by letting me do her a favor. You’re my boss, just tell me what to do!

        5. Kelly L.*

          I had one service-industry job where we all got to know each other really well and could get away with responding snarkily to this kind of thing. “Kelly, do you want to do the dishes?” “Nope!…But I will anyway.” It was a good outlet for the sarcasm we couldn’t unleash on the customers.

      3. LKW*

        I do the “We need to do this… where ‘we’ means you.” (or sometimes “where ‘we’ means me.” ) I like to think of it as a directed collaborative approach.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I don’t like “we” unless the person saying “we” is actually going to be involved, if that makes any sense. Like if you (general you) say “We need to mop the floor,” that to me implies that you will be helping to mop the floor, and it’s kind of irksome if you’re not.

          1. Strawmeatloaf*

            Have to agree. I don’t like the use of the royal “we” when it comes to telling a person what to do. Just say “you need to do this”, don’t act as though I’m going to get help.

          2. LKW*

            I get it – usually I say it because I generally like to use “we” and then I need to clarify. It’s probably very annoying.

          3. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I always want to respond to that with “Who’s ‘we’?” because I strongly suspect that “we” is just me, but I want to clarify just in case.

        2. Sarah M*

          Please don’t do this. It really comes across as condescending, whether that’s your intention or not. If (hypothetical) you needs to ask me to do something for you, just ask me. If it’s truly a situation where something needs to be done by the team, then that phrasing makes perfect sense. But if it’s something you want an individual to do *for you*, then it can come across as patronizing. If your aim is to ask politely, you can’t go wrong with sticking to the classics (“please” and “thank you”).

      4. AKchic*

        The passive-aggressive “if you’d like”, “would you like to” “it would be nice if you did X”, “do you want to”, “if you want to” crap has always bothered me. It’s the implication that the person saying it is offering to *let* you do something that you want to do at their expense, but really, it’s 100% for their benefit, not yours, and it’s to manipulate you into doing what *they* want without actually asking you outright to do it. Instead of saying “Please wash the dishes” or “Please close the window because the breeze is making me cold” they say “You can wash the dishes if you’d like” or “You can close the window if you want, if you’re cold”.

        My grandmother is the queen of passive-aggressive. She drilled it into our heads to be polite and say please and thank you. Once she started getting older and stopped doing things for herself (a few things were admittedly age and infirmity, a lot more was because she got used to attention after my grandpa died and after she broke her ankle and she played up the elderly woman bit – and yes, I am extremely bitter because she damaged my arm with her antics, knowing full well my spine was already ruined). She decided to play the “I don’t want to be a burden” routine, while purposely doing things to be more of a burden on people instead of actually being less of one. She’d act apologetic about being a burden, and instead of asking outright for help, she’d be passive-aggressive and say emotionally-loaded statements meant to guilt people into helping her.
        Calling her out on it only stops it for about 20 minutes until she reverts back to her habits with another person.
        People need to say what they mean and speak plainly. Not be passive-aggressive, not try to emotionally coerce their kids into doing chores, not guilt-trip people into wanting to do the work they are paid to do. Just ask the question.

        1. Autumnheart*

          I agree. I think there is plenty of room for politeness and consideration while being plain.

          “Would you please empty the dishwasher? That would be a big help, thanks.”

          “I’m a little cold, do you mind if I close the window?”

          “I need someone to do XYZ task while I’m working on ABC task over the next half hour. Would you be able to help me with that?”

          I will note that it took me many years (and a lot of practical experience with search engines and usability) to really internalize that the fastest, most efficient way to accomplish a task is to be clear with your language. Don’t be excessively verbose or obtuse, just say it in easily understood words, and include the required parameters. You can soften it up with “Please”, “Thank you” “Might I ask you to” “Do you happen to know if” “I appreciate your help” :) (etc.) if you know people are more comfortable with softer or more oblique language, but honestly, once they get used to your communication style, they’ll probably come to reflect it a little themselves. That’s been my experience.

          1. SusanIvanova*

            Your “do you mind” reminded me of this: It was 1970 and “Mind if I smoke?” wasn’t really a question. But I was 5 and interpreted it as one, and said yes, I did mind. My grandparents were so tickled that they didn’t light up, and shortly after quit smoking entirely.

        2. nonymous*

          is your mom my mom’s twin? My husband has been helping me work on boundaries with my mom and it’s a losing battle. Most recently she asked if we could drive her car while she’s out of town for a few months. I said okay, as long as the car was appropriately registered (knowing it was due to expire in a couple weeks). I reminded her to get the emissions test and checked the vehicle licensing office hours. I went with her, and when she forgot to bring her checkbook, paid the fees.

          Yesterday, I stepped outside to see that she had parked in front of my neighbor’s mailbox, and did not stick the tabs on the car. I believe she locked the new tabs in the glove compartment which I don’t have access to because she only left me the valet key. Maybe she left it at home. Sigh.

          1. AKchic*

            Since my grandmother has never had a driver’s license – can’t be.
            It sounds like they may be cut from the same cloth, though.

            My own mother is a people-pleaser. She has to be everyone’s best friend. All thanks to grandma’s narcissistic issues. Its amazing what one person can do to multiple generations. My grandma starts in on her passive-aggressive, imperious petty princess commands (as I’ve dubbed them) and my mom jumps to do her bidding, then gets mad at me when I won’t dance to the same drumbeat. Then she gets mad at herself for dancing in the first place.
            “Oh, it’s sooo chilly in here. Like someone walking on my grave! You can close the window if you like”.
            *Me, sitting back in my chair* “Nope, I’m comfortable, thanks.”
            *Grandma unwadding the blanket she already kicked off herself 10 minutes ago because she was too hot and spreading it over herself* “Is it cold in here? Is the heat working properly? Was it supposed to be cold out today?” (Note that her tv is on all day, she has the weather channel, she has the paper right next to her, and the thermostat is already up high, everyone else is sweating. She just felt a breeze from the window she asked be opened less than 10 minutes ago)
            “If you want the window closed, you need to ask directly. I’m not playing the passive-aggressive hint game.”
            Cue her anger and frustration. She will literally wave her hand imperiously when hinting she needs something, or “you can hand me X if you want to”. When she says I can do something if I want to I make a big scene of getting comfortable in my seat and saying okay, I’m fine where I’m at, thanks. She hates it. Don’t play petty petty princess with me.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      Regarding #2, I feel you OP. I am so tired of pettiness and rude people at work. I have really hit my limit with that nonsense.
      Don’t give Susan an inch because she will always be trying to take from you. And I’d be tempted to casually ask her if she happens to have any idea how your mug got in the trash. She will deny it, but she will know that you’re on to her. Lock it up at night along with your other personal items.

    4. Lil Fidget*

      Honestly, I think the mug thing is a red herring. OP should put it out of her mind entirely. Once you’re mad at someone, you assume everything in your life is related to them – but there’s no real evidence to convict this coworker of throwing away your mug IMO. Could be cleaners, a guest in the office, a strong gust of wind. Let it go unless you see something more concrete.

      1. C.*

        Yeah, I was going to say the same. Even if it was done out of spite, there’s no evidence for that and it’s totally unrelated to OP’s legit complaints about Susan trying to take over her work.

        1. RB*

          Having worked in an office of “mean girl” personality types, this sort of thing is not below people. I think the OP should make a point of drinking out of her mug every time Susan is around and watch very closely to see what her reaction is.
          OP, if you’re reading, let us know. You could also make a point of washing your mug lovingly and carefully in the common area whenever Susan is in there, if that is an option. But hide it in a drawer when you go home at night.

  2. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 I totally understand why you’d want to do this, but I share a job role with two other people and it would feel a bit strange if we found the same comments word for word. And also other people see them eg my grandboss – not sure if that’s the case for you.

    1. Casuan*

      I’d also think it a bit strange.
      Ynere are certain phrases that are common or they really can’t be reworded more than two or three ways that it’s okay to repeat, although the default should not be to copy & paste.

      :::drinking coffee & thinking of the Fergi conjugations & trying to think of variations of “Your manager sucks & isn’t going to change. I’m sorry.”:::

    2. Samiratou*

      OTOH, I’ve never talked about performance reviews with my coworkers, let alone compared the written comments, so we’d never know if the boss used the same language for all of us.

      YOfficeCultureMV, of course, but if it’s unlikely your reports will compare notes, I don’t necessarily see the harm. Sometimes coming up with 6 different ways to say the same thing can end up stilted & weird by the 4th person whose review is being written.

      It would be better if there were different things about each person you can pick out to highlight, but if the job duties are pretty strightfoward so the main feedback is “makes high quality teapots quickly and efficiently” or something then there’s only so many ways to provide feedback.

      If their work is project-based or varied, though, that’s a different deal.

      1. Alienor*

        Yeah, even with the one other person who has my job title (and is a friend outside work) we don’t really compare reviews. Maybe “I was asked to focus on X for the upcoming year, were you too?” but we’d never know if our common manager copied and pasted from one review to the other.

      2. Jennifer*

        I’m with Samiratou, I’ve never compared notes with a coworker on my reviews. I already feel ashamed and embarrassed at review time anyway, I’m certainly not going to share what I did wrong this year with anyone. I would also actually expect to see the same text since in my last team before this one all three of us literally did the exact same job.

      3. Earthwalker*

        Only once did a coworker ever read any of an evaluation to me. She said, “Isn’t that great what the boss said? I’ve been working really hard for that. Maybe someday when you’ve been here as long as I have, if you get really good, he might say something like that about you.” I told her “Wow, that’s great! You should be proud of yourself,” knowing that the exact words actually were cut/pasted into my eval too.

  3. dr_silverware*

    OP#1 I so thoroughly agree with the advice to apologize. Of course, an apology is no guarantee of forgiveness, but it goes such a long way if it’s sincere, direct, and thoughtful. One more recommendation is think of a way to cut it short–no one wants to flounder around and make small talk in the wake of a conversation that can feel extremely intimate (though the attempt to do so is, really, the human experience). For instance, “It was good to speak with you. Thank you for hearing me out–I hope I’ll see you around the office.”

    OP#3, my inclination is…yes, you really should tell her about this job. Still apply for it. I think it’s honorable and friendly to tell your friend, and those two qualities are both wonderful to know you have and wonderful for others to know you have.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, that’s a great point about knowing how you’re going to end the conversation so it’s not just awkward fumbling. “Thank you for hearing me out” is great.

    2. Artemesia*

      How could the manager NOT consider Jane; they know her work and know she is qualified. Surely she will know about it or the bosses will contact her, so letting her know is good for you as well as her. It will make you look like a person of integrity.

      1. Sue*

        And if Jane does gets the new job, doesn’t that give you a great chance to stay in in your current role that you love? That may not be ideal for you but it sounds like a decent outcome

        1. anon scientist*

          There’s also a chance that Jane might not want to take on a new role with more responsibilities at this time. Friends that I know that have recently had kids have turned down promotions because they didn’t feel like they had the bandwidth right after coming back to work.

          1. Letter Writer #3*

            You guys are all spot on and basically validating my thought process. anon sci is correct that the current position has a lot of perks that are accommodating to her family life, I know she has turned down other opportunities in the past to maintain the flexibility she has here. It is very possible she would not be interested in this in the first place.

            Yes to Sue, her vacancy would almost certainly mean I could stay on permanently which I would be content with.

        2. eplawyer*

          And if she does tell Jane about the job, Jane will think kindly of her when the NEXT promotion comes along. A little goodwill today can pay dividends down the road.

      2. Obelia*

        Here in the UK, it still wouldn’t be the co-worker’s responsibility, but it would be considered potential discrimination if the manager didn’t let Jane know about any promotion opportunity while she was on maternity leave.
        Not sure if the laws in Canada are similar, but I agree it seems likely that the bosses would tell Jane, and it would be a good idea for LW3 to be straightforward with her.

        1. Zahra*

          Canadian here: Being away for pregnancy should not change your eligibility for promotions and advancement. If Jane were not told about this opening, I think (but I am not a lawyer) that it would constitute discrimination.

          Of course, I agree, it’s the manager’s/company’s responsibility to tell Jane, but I think it’s better to let her know anyway. Once the decision is made, it’s too late to go back on it and say “Oops, we discriminated against you!”

          1. Observer*

            It’s not LW#3’s responsibility to worry about the discrimination ramifications. But, it still is a good idea for them to let Jane know. Do you really want to be the person to took advantage of a woman’s maternity leave to push her out of a promotion she would have otherwise gotten?

            1. Letter Writer #3*

              Re: discrimination: t’s a newly created position in the same department. It has some overlap but I don’t see it as a direct promotion. Also, I believe they want an immediate start, so unless Jane were to negotiate that for much later, she may remove herself from eligibility.

              1. Observer*

                If she removes herself from eligibility, that’s a different issue, even if it’s because of her maternity leave. You’re not ethically obligated to not take an opportunity that someone else can’t take up, imo, as long as you’re not sneaky about it and not creating the roadblocks.

                From my pov, not saying anything would come off as underhanded, but actually applying for the position is perfectly straightforward.

        2. Lil Fidget*

          I get this logically, and I also assume things are different in Canada, but I would struggle with this. In what feels like a dog eat dog world to me right now, it seems hard to arm my competition to take the things I want haha. I’m not saying OP shouldn’t do it, just that I empathize with her struggle.

          (Also, does anybody else think Chadding Chadwick III would totally take this job and end up running the company while sweet OP gives it to Jane and ends up an admin for life?? Or am I just totally bitter and way off track this morning).

          Anyway OP, listen to the logic people. not me. Jane will almost certainly hear about the job anyway, so you might as well earn a few points by flagging it for her. Although the way my morning is going, I might bury it in an email.

          1. Oxford Coma*

            Agree with you. It also feels a tad condescending, like assuming Jane needs you to manage her career on her behalf.

              1. Former Employee*

                Not condescending, just nice.

                Every time George HW Bush (aka: Bush the Elder) talked about the US being a kinder, gentler nation, I always thought we could be more like Canada.

      3. Liz*

        “Thank you for hearing me out” is great language to add.

        I’ve also had this same conversation with colleagues before, and I found it incredibly valuable to include a request for feedback along with the apology, too. When I had this conversation, I said, “I hope you’ll hold me accountable to my commitment to improve in this area. If you see me being a jerk, please tell me. It’s important for me to know how my behavior impacts our working relationship, and I’m very open to hearing that directly from you.” That worked extremely well to refresh the relationship, and some people did come to me later to give me direct feedback that was very helpful.

  4. Glenn*

    For #4, I think you can safely copy and paste any part which is effectively boilerplate _about the job_, i.e. describing what the person’s role / responsibilities are, if multiple people have identical job titles / roles / responsibilities. (In fact ideally you might do this from something like a job description that they’ve already seen and know they’re being evaluated against.)

    But anything that’s supposed to be about the _person_ is going to look super weird to copy and paste, unless it’s something very mechanical like “[PERSON] gets [PERCENTAGE] of their TPS reports completed on time, which is considered a [RATING] level of completion.”

    1. Glenn*

      … Also, in a sensitive context like this, copy-and-paste has the potential for HORRIBLY embarrassing errors that will do serious damage to your relationship with your employees (e.g. accidentally sending someone information about someone else’s performance problem, or less seriously just calling someone by the wrong name in their evaluation.) That alone might be a good reason not to do it.

      1. NotActuallyArya*

        My first evaluation at my job talked about what a fantastic job Sansa was doing. I’m Arya. Sansa and I compared evals, and it was carbon copied, she had just changed (most of) the names. Sansa had been hired the week before me, but we always wondered how many of us got the same eval. It was frustrating, I’d rather had actual feedback on my performance.

        1. K.*

          This happened to one of my friends when we were in high school. We got grades and comments, and her comment had the wrong name in it, all throughout. “Freddie is a pleasure to have in class.” She was Whitley. She knew the A grade was right because she had gotten As on all her tests, but she was really angry that the teacher couldn’t even bother to write a paragraph about her. If I recall correctly, she took it to the principal but I can’t remember what happened after that.

      2. Hobgoblin*

        I once got an evaluation that I was really about. Until I saw that it said “he” throughout the review. I was the only woman on the team so it was obvious it was copied and pasted. It really changed what I thought of that supervisor…and the value I put on reviews in general!

    2. Djuna*

      My manager has a slightly different way of doing this, she has one piece that we all get which talks about our team as a whole, how we work together, how we’re perceived across the company, and how well we’re (as a team) doing against KPIs, etc.. She does this to make sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to team goals.

      Then, for each person, she does a more personalized evaluation, which helps you see how you contributed (for good or ill) to the team’s goals, then our personal goals, includes any personal feedback we’ve gotten, and then her own take on our work.
      I’m not sure that it saves her any time, but OP#4 could look into that as a version of the boilerplate you suggested, because one part naturally segues into the other, it feels less boilerplate as a result.

    3. Gnocchi*

      I’m in academia, and when someone goes up for promotion, colleagues at that rank or higher review the person’s past performance evaluations as part of the decision process. I sat on such a committee two years after I started my job, and it was demoralizing to read the same exact feedback from our manager as had been written in my evals. “[Gnocchi/Gnocchi’s coworker] is extremely good at x and has shown great strides in y. I thing [G/GC] is especially suited for.[same exact thing.] Kudos on a very effective year.”

      It made me see the evals as just a hoop that even my manager didn’t take seriously. (Which most evals are, but tehy don’t HAVE to be)

    4. I’m New Here*

      I agree with this. I’m in the middle of doing 13 reviews that are each 7 pages long and involve a lot of overlap. For any area that an employee get an “average” rating, they’re getting the same comments. I only have so many creative ways to say that a person is respectful of their coworkers. Any area in which the employee gets above or below the average, the comments are unique. I hate to use canned responses, but this is actually indicative of a poor performance evaluation tool.

      You need to consider the tool. If it’s asking you to comment on every minute thing each employee does, then it makes sense that you’ll do some copying and pasting. If you were focused on a few KPIs and then had an opportunity to write broader comments, then it would be expected that each review would be more unique.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Yeah. A lot of evaluations I have had to fill out have had categories like “Attendance”, “Safety”, “Adherence to Dresscode” and one even had “Cleanliness”.

        I hate those categories.

        Pretty much everyone got boilerplate phrases on those.

        “Jane had satisfactory attendance.”
        “Jane adhered to the dress code daily.”

        There’s not much room for variation on those. I guess I could do, “Ann had satisfactory attendance.” “Bob’s attendance was satisfactory.” “Charlie appropriately adhered to the attendance policy.” But why reinvent the wheel on those things?

        All of the performance related categories get individualized comments.

        As do anyone that gets above or below average in any category.

    5. Eye of Sauron*

      I used to do the same thing, I’d have boilerplates for all of the team KPIs and for results that were the same. That was usually the first paragraph. Then I would write a paragraph of specific feedback based on each individual employee.

      So it would turn out something like:
      Fergus contributed to team goal of 98% accuracy. Supported Project X. Completed all required safety training and personal development.

      Fergus expanded his role this year to include reinforcement training in common errors to the team, as well as documenting several confusing processes which helped to reduce team errors. Fergus took over daily tasks A and B, to allow coworker to lead Project X. Fergus presented to the team a short program detailing the best practices learned from his teapot makers seminar. The best practices have been integrated into the team allowing for a reduction of process time from X to X-10.

  5. Ann Furthermore*

    #4: I get wanting to copy and paste, since you have direct reports whose jobs are the same, but personally I think it’s not a good idea.

    I had a boss once who did that, and when I looked at the whole document I found that in addition to using identical comments in multiple evaluations, he hadn’t even bothered to update it with his own name as the manager, or change the dates. The copy and pasting on top of that was very disheartening. It sent the message that he didn’t care enough about the process or the people who worked for him to give it the time and attention it deserved.

    Now obviously if there’s something in there that doesn’t apply to your team you could use a general, one-sentence comment. At my last job there was a “Safety” section in the performance evaluation template, and since we were all corporate, cubicle-dwelling IT nerds, that didn’t really apply to us, so my boss used a quick generic comment as a placeholder.

    1. LQ*

      I definitely agree on any sort of standard sections that don’t really apply. My boss uses standard language and gives everyone a “meets expectations” for attendance (unless there is a legit problem). He gets kind of annoyed that he has to score us for it at all so everyone gets the same thing. Sure, you showed up, lets talk about what actually matters. I’m pretty sure he copy pastes that part and it doesn’t bother most people. (It does bother one coworker, but because she gets really really annoyed when people are a few minutes late and would like them to be punished for that.)

    2. Competent Commenter*

      I had this happen at work but even worse. We have a formal online system for doing annual reviews. Employees essentially write their own review into the template first—it’s a chance to make your best case, bring up examples of what you accomplished, get in some quotes from people who complimented your work, etc. My interim manager just copied and pasted my own words into their portion, and in some cases forgot to change “I accomplished X tasks…” to “Competent Commenter accomplished X tasks.” I really did feel like they were phoning it in.

      1. Random thought*

        YES TO ALL OF THIS. I have been at my job for three years. All of my reviews are CLOSE to identical, with some really minor word changes to make it look different. It is SO disheartening. This past year, I even offered to send a list of what I felt my accomplishments were… boss wouldn’t take it. It’s a catch-22 because I’m getting the highest ranking, so it feels silly to complain, but it still makes me feel like boss is phoning it in and doesn’t really care about my job performance.

        1. Competent Commenter*

          That stinks. I find our system to be a bit overwhelming–it takes 5-7 hours to do your own evaluation, and you have to put in annual goals, and it’s clunky. But I do appreciate that I have a chance to get my case on record, especially since I struggle with a too-large workload and always feel like anyone can nail me at any time for missing something important.

          I’m sorry your boss doesn’t give you the meaningful feedback that would make you feel more appreciated, and probably more secure.

  6. HRH the Emperor Kuzco*

    #1 all the advice to apologize is certainly spot on. One thing to keep in mind is that some people may not actually forgive you, and will hold a grudge. They will look for any reason to hold your previous behavior against you. The best thing you can do in that situation is to just continue to be on your better behavior.

    1. Avalanche Lake*

      Yes. In grad school I was a leader in a student organization. The members were each responsible for doing some work, which I organized. One of them completely blew me off, causing me a lot of grief and extra work (we even sought to have him kicked out of the organization so he couldn’t list it on his resume).

      In my first job after graduation, I walked in for my first day of work and who was the first person I saw? It was him! Pretty much as soon as he could, he came to my office and said “Obviously, I never saw this coming. I know I didn’t do a good job at [grad school org]. But I want to make it up to you, and I hope that you’ll give me another chance. I hope to become someone you can depend on.”

      There were a few things about this that I didn’t like, but I appreciated that he didn’t try to make excuses. He acknowledged that he’d been a jerk and said he wanted to do better. I was super super skeptical, but he really did change his ways. He became someone I enjoyed being around and felt comfortable working with. I would still never *recommend* him for a job (though our paths haven’t crossed in a while), but I wish him well and if I had to speak to his job performance, I’d give a neutral assessment.

      That may be all you can hope for, #1, but I think it’s totally worth it.

    2. fposte*

      You’re raising a good point and I’ll mention the less drastic version: some people may still not like the OP, and that’s okay and reasonable.

    3. MLB*

      +1 I had a job a while back working with someone who I had a history of butting heads with – she wasn’t my favorite person but I was friendly. There was an incident where we didn’t have a lot of wiggle room on time, and she was insisting on taking time away from another group to get her part done. I explained that it wasn’t possible, so she got pissed, called me a (bleeping) bitch and told me to go to hell.

      Thankfully there was a witness so we explained what happened to my boss. I’m guessing he spoke to her boss as well because it was way out of line. About a week or 2 later, there was a card on my desk from her with an apology. It was so insincere and forced it was ridiculous. I was civil to her when I needed to be, but was never even close to being friendly again. Had she apologized to me in person, I would have felt much differently.

      1. HRH the Emperor Kuzco*

        A former job was really high stress (finance), with a minor reputation for backstabbing. Tempers were known to flare quite often, and usually over the dumbest things. I always knew the people that were actually sincere about their apologies because they would do it face to face, and take time out of their day to do so. It was the ones, like you said, that sent off a flippant email or left a card that I ended up having worse relationships with.

      2. kitryan*

        I had a similar event happen to me- Fergus interrupted a conversation I was having with John about a issue we were having with the transition after a coworker had left the company (who should receive a report sent by Fergus on John’s behalf). As Fergus was starting to ask John about this same issue (who should he send the report to), I said something like ‘Oh, we were just talking about that…’ and was going to let him know what we’d worked out. Fergus turned to me and said ‘I wasn’t talking to you’. I was floored, so I just said something like ‘I’ll be going then’ and turned and left – incidentally, both John and I were longer term employees and both of us had higher level responsibilities than Fergus.
        About 2 hours later, Fergus came to my desk and apologized. I told him that he’d been rude and dismissive when I had relevant information relating to his issue. I believe I also mentioned that he’d interrupted the conversation. After he apologized again, I accepted his apology.
        I’m 99.99% sure that John told him he’d been rude and that he should apologize. I’m also 99.99% sure that the start of this whole issue was Fergus making an assumption about who was replacing the departed coworker-and assumed it was the male new hire in the department, not me- since Fergus had picked the new hire to send this report to, while the new hire barely knew where the copier was at this point-and who’s duties were to assist me while I was picking up most of the responsibilities of the person who’d left.
        End result- The apology was required for me to even be willing to speak to Fergus again, but it didn’t make me like him and I rejected him as a prospect to take on some work in my department a few months later-since I did not want to train him or work with him if I could avoid it.
        Depending on how bad the prior behavior was, it may take more time and for OP to demonstrate that they’ve turned over a new leaf – but the apology is probably a necessary first step.

  7. Casuan*

    OP1: I like Alison’s script, in part because you’re not technically asking for forgiveness. Instead, you’re acknowledging past behaviour & your hope that you can show them the revised you… then letting your colleagues manage their own thoughts & feelings, especially if they might not be ready to actually forgive.
    to be clear: This doesn’t mean you don’t need them to forgive you. If you think someone needs to hear those words or if they mention forgiveness, then by all means go for it.

    three caveats:
    -Be prepared to earn the respect of your colleagues; not being a jerk is a good way to do this. Each person will have their own time-frame, if indeed at all.
    -We can all be jerks at times. If you do something jerk-ish, own up to it as soon as you realise how you acted. This isn’t just you; we should all do this. Just know that we all have our bad moments & probably you’re no exception.
    -this might be overstepping on my part [& it’s rhetorical]… How you acted in the past, do you know what caused that behaviour? Would you recognise it now? If so, then do what you can to avoid the trigger.
    eg: You fetch the papers you just printed & discover the printer is out of paper. That triggers your jerk alter-ego & you loudly declare something about that scenario.
    How would you react now? Would it help to count to 10?
    These questions are because I’m wondering if the office might have brought out your inner jerk; I know I can be easily wrong here.

    Congrats on the rehire & good luck!!
    It’s awesome that you’ve realised the situation; that can’t be easy to admit. :-)

  8. Elkay*

    #3 I’m not sure how similar Canada and the UK are but I saw an employer get stung by not telling an employee who was on maternity leave about a role in her department that ended up going to her maternity leave cover (they had to promote her to the same grade as the new role because they couldn’t prove she wouldn’t have got the job had she applied). If your employer is organised then they should have already told the staff member on maternity leave about this role.

    1. Agent Diane*

      This. In the UK you do need to have “keep in touch” meetings with someone on parental leave, and informing them of organisational changed that could impact them. I was sent reams about a change in T&C when I was off for 9 months.

      1. Letter Writer #3*

        I didn’t consider that there might be some formal duty to notify of these kinds of changes. Even so, I still think I’m going to tell her directly so there’s no bad blood however the chips fall.

  9. Birch*

    Also OP, please don’t hold it against anyone if they take a long time to warm back up to you–or even if they never do. If the others have expressed concerns, this sounds more serious than “oh they weren’t my favorite.” You can’t be sure exactly how much you possibly hurt someone, even unintentionally, so it may not be possible to get on good terms with everyone. Don’t pressure them or make comments about them needing to get over it and move on. The apology is only the beginning, the rest is showing that you can also act on it.

    1. the gold digger*

      The apology is only the beginning, the rest is showing that you can also act on it.

      Yes. An apology does not wipe the slate clean and give you a re-set back to zero. I can forgive you, but it will take a long time (if ever) for me to trust you again. Forgiving just means I don’t talk trash you to other people anymore. It doesn’t mean I don’t think you won’t hurt me again. It for sure does not mean I think I need to have any kind of relationship with you.

  10. Greg M.*

    you’ve got good advice on dealing with the coworker in number 2 so I’m going to give you some advice on the mug.
    A. it’s time for that mug to go home, you obviously like it and don’t want to lose it.
    B. bring in a cheap mug that you don’t care about
    C. yeah it sucks but honestly that’s the world we’ve got
    D. stop worrying about who, how, when or why it was in the trash, it’s one of those things that can burrow into the back of your mind and sit there and it’s not worth it. she’ll never admit it, even if she asks about the mug she could just be noticing, best revenge is living well.

    1. Casuan*

      Taking the mug home occurred to me, too.
      The litmus test for what to keep in the office is analogous to what to put in the checked luggage: If you’d be devastated to lose the item then don’t do it.
      Which does suck, because sometimes those things make us a little happier when we use or look at them.

      :::looking at the plaque near my desk that reads “Success is the best revenge”:::

      1. anon scientist*

        I think there’s a difference between being devastated that something disappeared versus annoyed as hell that someone deliberately threw the thing away, though.

        1. Casuan*

          “Devastated” was the only word that came to mind, so I went with it.
          Still, the concept applies. :)

          1. Kelly L.*

            But I don’t own any mug that I want thrown away by my co-workers, though. I’m not super attached to any of them sentimentally, but they’re still mine, and they’re still not my co-workers’ to throw away. I don’t think “bring no mug to work at all” is a solution here. I’d rather bring my mug, trust that none of my co-workers are loons, and not have to use and toss a disposable cup every day.

            1. Lady Phoenix*

              I agree. So maybe I might bring in a mug that isn’t AS precious to me and see if that one gets tossed by Susan as well.

              1. Kelly L.*

                I’m still not sure where the idea is coming from that the mug is precious or that OP is devastated–just that it’s distinctive-looking* and that she’s annoyed.

                *Which doesn’t necessarily mean “given to me by my late Great-Aunt Jane and carved of unicorn horn”; she just means you can tell it’s the same mug and not a random generic one that might belong to anyone.

            2. Phoenix Programmer*

              This is getting onto not picking word choices it feels.

              I think most people don’t want there mugs tossed but the comment makes a good point that you should be sure that items at work are ones you won’t be upset about losing.

      2. MugMystery*

        OP #2 here. I’m definitely okay with letting the mug thing go. Its not something to obsess over, because its so petty. Its not deeply personal to me, just my distinctive company mug I use at work. I think I will probably leave it hidden for a little while – but make no mention of it to anyone. The only other thing that gave me pause when I was trying to figure out the “mug motive” was that when she first arrived, she commented that she liked my mug and then started using it as hers. I told her it was my preferred mug (it has my name on it) and she didn’t use it again. That was it. *shrugs*

        1. Spider*

          when she first arrived, she commented that she liked my mug and then started using it as hers

          Whaa–? Who does things like this?? (Well, people who lack boundaries!)

        2. Robin Sparkles*

          Ok that is odd…and lends credence to the fact that she had something to do with it. That being said- I think it is a red herring and best to keep this one filed away as a data point on crazy Susan.

        3. As Close As Breakfast*

          That would be totally annoying and definitely supports the theory that your coworker threw the mug away. But I completely understand wanting to let it go. In the grand scheme of things at work that you want to dwell on or whatever, this probably isn’t very high. Which is why I would make damn sure to use that mug every freaking day. Out in the open! On my desk! Loud and proud! (as loud and proud as mug usage can possibly go) Because that is what you would be doing if you hadn’t found it in the trash, right? So go about your business, mug in hand!

          1. As Close As Breakfast*

            FWIW, I can lean towards the petty side at times… so I would likely make a point of holding the mug right in front of me any time I had to talk to coworker. And take loooooonnnnngggg sips out of it while maintaining direct eye contact. With dead eyes.

            But that’s just me.

    2. Ten*

      it’s one of those things that can burrow into the back of your mind and sit there and it’s not worth it.

      Very true! You already know what sort of person Susan is; knowing for sure that she did (or didn’t) throw your mug in the trash isn’t going to affect that at all, but continuing to wonder about it will be bad for you.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I’m somewhat astonished that so many people, including maybe Alison, think there’s a decent chance this coworker threw away the mug! That feels rather outlandish to me, and there’s zero evidence about it. I think OP should try to resolve in her mind that there’s no reason to think this person was involved in the mug at all.

        1. Yorick*

          I agree. There’s no evidence that it was thrown in the trash at all, or that Susan is the one who did it.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              It was in the trash, true, but it doesn’t follow that somebody threw it there deliberately to spite OP. However, maybe we have to take OP at their word that there’s no other way it could have gotten in there.

              1. eplawyer*

                It was buried under stuff. That doesn’t happen by accident. Coupled with other information about how Susan felt about the mug, I think it is not too far fetched that she had something to do with the mug ending up in the trash.

                But in the grand scheme of things in dealing with Susan, this is small potatoes — at this time. file it away if needed if other weird things happen to your stuff.

            2. Bostonian*

              My last place of employment was one in which people would take/throw others’ belongings away out of spite, so this is definitely A Thing That Happens.

        2. Liane*

          Because the archives here are just full of accounts of coworkers, reports, and even bosses doing equally, if not more, petty things?

        3. Observer*

          I think that this is a situation where taking the OP at their word applies. She is pretty clear that she tho0ught about it and that it is unlikely that it was an accident. I don’t see any reason to dismiss that out of hand.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            That’s fair, maybe this is one of those times where you are, as you say, supposed to take OP at their word. I just feel like it was a leap. But I defer to commenting rules!

        4. Kate 2*

          It’s really not that outlandish. The mug was in the trash.

          Also, as someone mentioned in the comments yesterday, there was a coworker who proudly admitted to another coworker that he intentionally drove out the LW from their shared office with farts! He deliberately ate the most gas-causing foods imaginable and let it all out. She only found out because she was still friends with another coworker.

          Then there are all the other crazy letters we get, like the employee who cursed people, and the LW who was so jealous of her skinny pretty direct report she deliberately worked against her and set her up to fail.

    3. LKW*

      Part of me wants you to buy a dozen “unique” mugs and let her keep tossing them and then you keep “finding” it. At some point she would lose her mind and possible have a hissy fit and admit she broke it – threw it out.

      1. AnaEatsEverything*

        This was sort of my line of thought too! Immediately start using the mug again If Susan has no reaction, that’s fine, you just got your mug back. If she does take a long, hard look at it, start up a conversation: “Oh!” *smile* “You noticed my mug! I got it a few months ago at…” etc.

        But that probably says more about my particular level of petty.

      2. LKW*

        Yes – and to clarify – I mean a dozen identical mugs that are “unique” like ones with a picture of your kid on it. That keep appearing even if someone tries to break it. And you keep “finding” it right where you left it.

    4. Cruciatus*

      I don’t think the OP should have to take her mug home. But if she chooses to, do it right after you’ve had a sip from it while talking with Susan.

  11. Screenwriter managing to keep it going*

    I’ve been in LW#1’s situation, I’m embarrassed to say. And the only way I fixed it, was by sitting down with every single person one by one and apologizing to them in person, saying exactly how I’d been a jerk to them, and how I regretted it, and how I respected them (remember, the main thing about being a jerk is the disrespect, so you need to fix that, too), and an explanation (for me, I was going through a really exhausting, difficult period, things in my personal life like an ill mom who I was taking care of, an adoption that never seemed to happen, etc), so they can fully understand it was nothing to do with them, and a sincere hope to make amends.

    When you truly apologize like that, taking accountability, expressing respect, and showing humbly how you acknowledge your misbehavior and how you intend to correct it, honestly, most people will be very touched, even flattered that you took the time, and made yourself that vulnerable emotionally, and humbled yourself to them. It really is important to do it one by one, and to let them say everything they need to say, and acknowledge, recognize, apologize, and make amends.

    And guess what, it works. I rebuilt a career that was totally on the rocks (I work in a hugely gossip-laden, back-biting, competitive career where nasty gossip/word of mouth can torpedo you–especially if you’re a woman) (yes, the movie business). But I not only rebuilt, but actually became far better, with far better relationships, and have a career now that’s exponentially more successful and enjoyable. It’s amazing. A true apology like that really feels like eating crow at first, but the more you do it, the more it actually feels like this huge weight off your shoulders.

    You might think about WHY you acted like a jerk–and explain that, too (“not an excuse, ever, but just an explanation” is how you’d say it). That, too, takes a lot a not-so-pleasant soul-searching, but honestly it’s very cleansing. “I was immature, I wanted to impress you, I had no idea what I was doing and wanted to cover up, I felt like I was supposed to be “tough” and “bulldozing,” especially as a woman” etc etc. People truly appreciate that you’re baring your soul. More importantly, you’ll really feel so much better after you do this, and the best way to approach it, is to understand that you’re making amends, and that you accept fully if they’re not ready to hear it (but, you’ll find, in almost all the cases, they will).

    Then, the absolute imperative is to follow it up by really, really watching yourself, watching everything you do, asking yourself every time you open your mouth “Is this going to help me?” If you’re naturally a bit snarky and sarcastic, make a huge effort to be kind and positive. I was horrified to discover how hard this was for me! Every time I opened my mouth, some snarky little bon mot was about to escape, and honestly it felt so stupid at first to only say something nice–like I was too stupid to notice what was going on. But people didn’t think I was stupid–in fact they really liked this new me. Remember, at heart, you’re a nice, decent person–especially for recognizing your own bad behavior, so remember that. Something just prompted you to act badly, and now you’re changing that. Good luck. It’s really brave to step up like this, not many people can do it. The rewards are huge.

    1. Mookie*

      Nice story. Thank you for sharing it. I hope the LW finds it heartening and useful.

      Every time I opened my mouth, some snarky little bon mot was about to escape, and honestly it felt so stupid at first to only say something nice–like I was too stupid to notice what was going on. But people didn’t think I was stupid–in fact they really liked this new me.

      This is great. As others have said, not everything can be mended and not everyone will be amenable to perceiving the LW as anything other than her previous self, but you’re right: in general, people want to like colleagues, co-workers, fellow employees they meet in passing. Give them any excuse you can to let them like you and, if all parties express willingness, get to know the new you (and get to know them, three years later!–“you always hurt the one you love” is a choice and not an order issued from on high and it’s often more difficult to fall back into bad, thoughtless, cruel patterns when you’ve made a genuine effort to mend and move on from a broken professional relationship).

    2. MK*

      This is a great story, and it sounds to me that you were really brave in owning up to your faults and correcting them. But… if it was me, I would be embarrassed and uncomfortable with sitting down for such a post-mortem of our working relationship, not to mention being confided to about personal things that were behind the bad behavior. If this was a current colleague I was working closely with, and would continue to do so, then I would go through with it, because, yes, in such a situation it’s probably necessary to clear the air. But I don’t think it makes sense in the OP’s case; the bad behavior is years in the past and she isn’t going to be working with these people. Offering a simple, brief apology and then proceeding to exhibit good behavior in the office going forward seems the best idea to me.

      1. Kate 2*

        I thought she was going to be working with them. She has a new manager, but “several people” expressed concerns to the manager, to the point that “mending relationships” is a requirement of getting and keeping her job.

        1. MK*

          No, the OP says specifically “I won’t actually be working with the people that do not like me”. And it doesn’t seem to be an actual requirement:

          “My new manager is moving forward with me for the position, but he made it clear that he wants me to mend any/all relationships that may be less than stellar from my last time in the office.”

          That’s more like “I will hire you, but do work on the relationships” than “I won’t hire you unless and untill you mend the relationships”.

          I wasn’t suggesting that the OP should do nothing, merely that the detailed apology described above doesn’t seem suited to the situation to me.

    3. Casuan*

      You win the internet for sharing your story & giving advice that can only come from having been there & done that.
      Screenwriter, I hope this helps OP1 & I think it’s helpful to others to understand the office jerks in our own lives. Thanks for that.
      Your circumstances [your mum & the adoption- I’m sorry for both] remind me of the Covey Man on the Subway… it shows how our attitudes shift if we understand the backstory or reasoning, even if just a little.*

      Screenwriter & OP1, I’m curious…
      When did you realise you were being jerks? Did you perceive it at the time? Was this behaviour in other aspects of your lives?
      What made you want to change?

      *Stephen Covey: 7 Habits… man on subway with his rowdy kid… they were annoying other passengers… when asked if he can watch them better he replied he knows he should tho they just left hospital… his wife & their mum just died…

  12. Gaz112*

    OP1 – humble & apologetic is definately the way to go, then let people see the ways you have changed.

  13. Audrey Puffins*

    #3: worth bearing in mind that if Jane does apply for and get this new position, then that would leave her current position – the one you’re currently in and claim to enjoy immensely – vacant. You may decide you want to move on anyway, but you’d be well-positioned to be Jane’s permanent replacement if she does end up moving up.

    1. Snowglobe*

      That’s true. And the flip side is that if Jane isn’t made aware of the new position, it might still go to someone else. Then OP would be out of both jobs.

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Yes, I had the same thought. A promotion for Jane could mean a permanent job for the OP! Much easier for the company to retain the person already doing Jane’s job rather than start a permanent hiring process when they’ve just been through a temp hiring process.

      1. Anony*

        And really if they are doing a good enough job to be a real contender for the higher level position they are probably a shoo in for Jane’s current position.

        1. Chinook*

          I agree. For the company, it would be win-win. They would be able to fill the position with Jane’s experience while not having to find her replacement. But, you can also still apply for it while informing Jane about it and, if you do get it, not only will you know you were the best one for it but she would have no reason to be resentful about you poaching it like she would if you didn’t give her a heads up.

    3. Letter Writer #3*

      Yes, Audrey, I agree! In many ways this could work out as a win-win for me. Either position sounds like a good fit for my strengths and interests and would give me an opportunity to stay on with an organization I like very much.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        That’s so true! I firmly believe that, in the workplace at least, people succeed in groups. When someone in your network does well, that’s good for you, because now you have friends and advocates in higher positions. Even if you don’t get the new position (though you might–it sounds like you’re doing a great job!), you would still be in a position to thrive.

  14. Lillie*

    Was it really necessary to include the jab at maternity leave? It has nothing to do with the substance of the question.

    1. Audrey Puffins*

      By referring to Canada as the land of sensible maternity leave for letting Jane have a year off, Lille has taken that as a jab at countries that don’t give that much time. In my experience, new parents often like spending time with their baby, so although it could be considered a jab, I don’t think it’s an unfair one. (I’m in the UK, statutory maternity leave of 52 weeks, though you can go back after 2 weeks if you’re keen and your job allows you.)

      1. TL -*

        It was neither necessary nor relevant, though, and it gets a bit tiresome to have every conversation about maternity leave and health care go down the same route regardless of whether it’s relevant or adding to the conversation.

        1. Audrey Puffins*

          That’s fair. I’m pretty new to the comments; although I imagine the LW wanted to clarify to stop anyone wondering why Jane is out for so long, I hadn’t considered the rabbit hole this could lead to down here. :)

          1. TL -*

            Yeah! Sorry; we go down this rabbit hole a lot and there are definitely times when it’s really relevant…but there are many times where it’s not.

        2. Mike C.*

          It’s relevant in the sense that since the maternity leave is actually for a significant amount of time that it’s likely the person on leave may not see the job opening. That’s going to sound weird in the US context when maternity leave isn’t nearly as long.

          It’s kind of like how the TV show “Breaking Bad” would never make sense outside of the United States due to differences in healthcare systems.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Both excellent points.

            It matters to the question because it’s from somewhere that a year is the norm, which it isn’t in the US. Nitpicking word choice is explicitly against commenting rules, for good reason.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yeah I needed to know that to understand the context of the letter, TBH, because otherwise I would have thought OP was only there for 12 weeks max, which is really more of a short term temp position here. I assume it’s much longer than that based on the extra information.

          2. Morning Glory*

            I don’t think Lillie was referring to the context in the letter letting us know that the maternity leave was a full year – I think she meant the commentary the LW used to accompany it.

            I don’t personally see it as out of line, but I can see why Lillie and others might.

          3. TL -*

            The year long leave and/or country was necessary for context and (at least for me) not at all an issue; the parenthetical aside was not.

          4. TL -*

            Mike C. – the breaking bad discussion is an interesting one if you ever want to take it to the open thread! (But super off topic here.)

          5. JamieS*

            It’s relevant to mention OP’s in Canada. Saying it’s the “land of sensible maternity leave” is not relevant.

        3. Mary*

          I’m not sure it was non-relevant, since if Jane was only off for six weeks or so then the question of missing out on a job opportunity is much less likely to arise than if she’s off for a year.

          1. Eye of Sauron*

            I think it could have been just as easily stated as “Canada-Year long maternity leave” instead of ” land of sensible maternity leave”

            I’m with the person below as thinking it came off smug and unnecessary.

            1. Observer*

              TBH, it also struck me as rather tone deaf. I mean the OP is essentially talking about trying to get a job via blocking out the better qualified person who is out on this “sensible maternity leave.” Um, maybe not so sensible?

              I realize that the whole topics is far more complex than that. Also, that the OP probably didn’t totally think through that implication of what she was suggesting. And that she’s basically a decent person or she wouldn’t be asking the question in the first place. I’m just pointing out how the juxtaposition of the comment and the question is more jarring than most.

      2. Cambridge Comma*

        It’s a fair jab to make at people who can change the system. It’s not fair to make when the only people who see it are readers here who suffer from the system (the new parents in the US, who would presumably also like to spend time with their baby). Also, it’s insufferably smug (I say that as a European).

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I totally disagree.

          It was relevant. Including it made clear that this was all happening in a system of structured, long-term maternity leave.

          But regardless, it didn’t read as smug to me. I know Alison prefers that commenters not say negative things about US labor laws (and it’s her blog so those are the rules we should follow), but I find those comments appropriately instigating, not smug bragging.

          People are different. Some folks don’t want their crappy situations (i.e. lack of maternity leave) highlighted; some people want to scream it from the rooftops so other people notice and can help change the crappy situation.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Even if it was necessary, it could have been phrased differently to be clear that it’s for context and not jabbing.

          2. Jesmlet*

            Mentioning that the maternity leave is for a year is appropriate for context. Saying “the land of sensible maternity leave” is unnecessary and I do see why some would take it the wrong way, particularly if they’re in the middle of a struggle in this regard. I can’t personally do anything to change our paternal leave laws. The state I’m in has newly instated paid family leave which allows for up to 8 weeks and that’s on the generous side as far as I know. I don’t need to be reminded that the majority of other developed countries have gotten with the program and decided not to simultaneously reward and punish people for having children. Yay for tax benefits, boo for having to leave work.

      3. ThatGirl*

        Why on earth do we have to be defensive that US maternity leave sucks? I don’t understand that at all. It’s not a jab, it’s just true.

    2. Letter Writer #3*

      Sorry, I sincerely didn’t mean for it to be offensive. As Alison correctly intuited, I included it purposely for context to explain why the contract of my maternity leave cover was for a full year when otherwise that might sound strange to some people, and also to indicate that her return was both scheduled and expected.

  15. xyz*

    #3 – the bright side would be that you could be in a strong position to take over Jane’s job permanently if she was promoted to the other job.

  16. GM*

    OP#1, I speak as a lead of a team wherein a jerk-type person returned and integrated back into the team. It wasn’t smooth, my co-lead and I had grave concerns. My manager wanted to push the case through, and encouraged us to discuss our concerns with the returning team member. We did so, and found him extremely amenable to our suggestions and desired way of working. He also did apologize quite sincerely and if not in so many words, he promised his bad behavior wouldn’t repeat itself. To our great relief, he complied with everything we said and was a superb performer until the day he left for a better position. This is one of those happy stories where I can share that the entire team including the ‘jerk’ are still active in a small online group of our own, and cheer each other’s milestones with joy.

    1. CM*

      I’ve also been in a situation where a coworker changed their ways. It will be rocky at first, but if you make an extra effort to be cooperative and pleasant, I think you can turn things around. I do like the idea of a brief apology up front, as long as you’re not expecting people to accept your apology. I would expect that some people would be receptive to that but other people would be suspicious. I agree with dr_silverware’s advice above to keep it short and get out of there — not only will it cut the awkwardness, but it will also make it clear that you don’t expect the former coworkers to react or say anything back to you.

    2. Mike C.*

      Something I’ve long argued is that soft skills are skills like any other, and can be coached and improved if the employee is willing to accept the need and do the work.

    3. J.B.*

      I’m glad to hear of a positive outcome. So much better for that employee as well as for everyone around him!

  17. Channel Z*

    #3 Telling Jane would be the right thing to do. If you don’t tell her and she finds out you deliberately held back the information, that will damage your working relationship. And telling her may not be the risk that you think. It is very possible that Jane might not be interested in applying for the job, with a new baby it may be more hours or responsibility than she wants right now. Or you could both apply, and they decide to hire you. And if she gets the job, then her old job is vacant and you can apply for that. You have more to gain and not much to lose by being forthright.

  18. Thomas E*

    #1: I’m not sure I agree with the advice here. In the perfect world, yes… But…

    Well, frankly people may not forgive and forget and are unlikely to accept that you have changed unless you show it. And, they’re not going to see it unless you work closely enough with them to change their minds.

    Which isn’t going to happen here from what you say.

    So, your going back to an environment where people with a bad history with you have had a lot of time to build relationships and seniority… The kind of relationships that may affect career progression.

    Personally, I think this might just be a burnt bridge. I’d be tempted to keep looking for a better job.

    1. Mookie*

      It’s possible this will hurt her down the road if she anticipates rising in the ranks here, but she got the job and it appears as though the powers that be are both (a) aware of what she’s done in the past and (b) judge that it isn’t a sticking point in the present tense, so she’s relying on their judgment there. Her new manager has asked her to do this, and it sounds like the LW is less interested in healing her reputation than in making amends that are meaningful to her without hurting the people she’s hurt in the past, weighing out her desires with their needs, safety, and security.

    2. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      I mean, if one of the jerks in my professional past joined my department and apparently-sincerely apologized, I wouldn’t instantly forgive and forget, but I do think the apology would make me more apt to notice changed behaviour from them afterwards and quicker to believe that it will last. It’s step #1 down the road of proving themselves.

    3. neverjaunty*

      If the LW has damaged someone’s career or behaved inexcusably, maybe, but having been a garden-variety jerk years ago may be something she can overcome.

    4. Jesmlet*

      They took her back right? And the only way to fix the bridge is to go back and try. I think it’d be silly to not even attempt to mend fences there. And I personally feel like apologies like this are good for the soul. OP is a different person now and should take the opportunity to apologize for her former self and then move forward. It’ll be a hard series of conversations to have, but there is no harm in having them.

  19. sssssssssss*

    Post #2: if you are at the front desk, that means you are customer facing. Tell your coworker that the software you use for your creative outlets are not easily taught if you are going to be interrupted often.

    Are any of these software not the free kind? Maybe it’s too costly to get more than one licence.

    If your boss is good, talk to him and get him on board: Sorry, we can’t afford more than copy of this software; Sorry, it’s not a good use of her time to show her that software.

    And sorry you have deal with a person like that. I completely understand.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      My guess is that it is adobe suite. The brand new stuff has a year subscription service while the super old stufff is free. Then you have Lynda subscriptions (and maybe skillshare? Anyone used it?) to talk you through it.

      If she was a lot nicer, I would tell her to download the old programs, buy a lynda subscription (or check the library if they have a service to do it for free. My library does), and practice at home.

      But she is not, so I would tell her that I won’t teach her and that there are services that can go over the basics… and not tell her. She can google it.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I totally sympathize with OP for not wanting to lose the fun part of her job – I’ve so been there. Then again, if I was the boss, I’d want some kind of cross training for the eventual time when OP leaves, or is out sick with a tight deadline, or whatever. There’s a chance that he’s going to be supportive of improving this coworker’s ability to do some design work – just want to flag it for OP – and if he does, she’s not going to be able to reasonably refuse to offer some kind of assistance.

        1. Jesmlet*

          Agreed. What OP wants and what her boss wants will not necessarily line up. If I were the boss, I’d want multiple people who are able and willing to do that type of work. Better to directly offer her resources where she can learn on her own.

        2. sam*

          I was going to say something similar. There’s a fine line between being just the person with a specialized skill and “knowledge hoarding” – sometimes it’s hard to know where that line is. I worked with someone who had some pretty good skills on some software, and would refuse to show anyone else how to use those tools. She also held onto information in other ways that I won’t get into here. While in the short term it made her the go-to person for those things, in the long run it created a situation where she developed a reputation for being difficult to work with and not a collaborative team player.

          That being said, particularly with training, there are ways of “sharing” without having to do the work yourself (which is also annoying and time consuming). Like being generous with resources on how someone can learn on their own time, not yours.

          And none of this prevents you from speaking to your boss about making the creative part of your job an “official” part of your job, so that it’s not just floating around as this extra thing that you don’t get credit for.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Also, we’ve had a hoarder leave, and it was much more of a crisis than it should have been. And employers need to assume that everybody is leaving eventually.

            1. sam*

              Oh yes – this wasn’t my company, but when I was at my old firm, we worked with a company that had a severe information hoarder – who was also extremely difficult to work with. It ended where, when the company finally got rid of her because of her horribleness, they basically had to recreate years worth of company records/documents in electronic form because she had the only copies.

              (they had the originals and paper copies, but for the type of work she did, a lot of it involved deals where the documents would get copied and modified – having to recreate everything from scratch was a massive time suck)

          2. Oxford Coma*

            Agreed that this can be tricky. If you’ve spent a lot of your own time and money obtaining a skill, it seems logical to be frustrated at the idea of being expected to spoonfeed that skill to coworkers.

            1. Crafty*

              Designer and Adobe teacher here. It makes sense that a boss would want more people with graphics skills/Adobe knowledge, but there’s a larger issue of the other employee not being able to take feedback and refusing suggestions. If I were in the boss’s position, I may want two people that can do graphics but I certainly wouldn’t suggest my graphics person take on the honestly huge and complicated task of teaching another employee Adobe software if that employee had already clearly shown to be such a poor fit. I don’t think OP runs the risk of appearing knowledge hoarding here because design/program knowledge is a major skill, not something you can learn in a day or a week or even a month, and she’s also not refusing to show anyone at all, just this person.

          3. Bostonian*

            I think what gets OP out of hoarder territory is that technically anyone could make these materials (AND it’s not a key portion of the job duties), but because OP happens to have had official training, her quality of work is superior to what anyone else could do.

            This is why it’s important to talk to boss about it- OP will know if the boss actually wants someone else to have this training/knowledge.

        3. PersephoneUnderground*

          Also, sounds like it’s the more advanced and challenging part of her job, too. Not that admin duties aren’t challenging, but there’s less room for growth in strict admin work, and it often is seen as a “soft skill” while mastery of complex design software is a “hard skill”. Solid design skills can often translate directly into raises and new responsibilities more quickly then administrative work. So losing that aspect could also seriously cramp her earning potential and career growth at this company.

      2. Imposter Syndrome Graphic Designer*

        My standard script for people who ask me to teach them Adobe CC (other than my departmental coworkers, who are all strongly collaborative) is, “I’d be happy to walk you through a specific task, but I don’t really have time to introduce you to the software as a whole. But there are a lot of great free tutorials out there that are easy to find through Google. That’s how I learned.” The number of people who’ve followed up on this on their own is, as far as I know, zero. (I also point a lot of people to Adobe’s free apps, which are terrific.)

  20. Antilles*

    #5: Unless they’ve contacted you back on your application, you have no reason to follow up. Most firms get way more applicants than they could reasonably interview, so they don’t follow up with every candidate either. In fact, odds are they won’t even remember you exist unless you’re one of the (relative) handful of people they call for an interview.
    If the situation comes when a company calls for an interview now and you have to turn them down, don’t feel the slightest bit guilty. Just give a polite response and leave it at that (e.g., “I really appreciate the offer to talk to you, however, I’ve already found a position with ___ and am no longer looking. Best of luck on your search!”). It’s super normal and they won’t even think twice about it.

  21. Lynca*

    OP: 2-

    You mention that Susan talks down to you. Do you push back on that? She shouldn’t be talking down to you even if she is a rank above you. You can stick up for yourself without being rude back to her. Simply flagging the behavior in conversation, I find, is enough to get most people to back off for a bit.

    Also don’t validate her simply to keep peace. I have so many peers try to do that to me. While it is uncomfortable when someone is aggressively seeking it, I find just disengaging helps. She can have a one sided conversation if she wants.

    1. MLB*

      I don’t think Susan ranks above her, I think it’s more of a “I’m older than you therefore wiser” deal. And I completely agree about not validating her. Just end the conversation. You don’t have to be rude but be abrupt. Maybe if you do it enough times she’ll realize she won’t be validated by you and stop the behavior.

    2. MLB*

      I just re-read and yes she did say she’s a step above her (oops) but she still needs to stop validating her. Just because someone is above you in the job world doesn’t mean they get to treat you poorly.

      1. RVA Cat*

        “Just because someone is above you in the job world doesn’t mean they get to treat you poorly.”
        So. Many. Issues. could be solved if only this were a truth universally acknowledged.

    3. As Close As Breakfast*

      OP, you also said that “She will repeat herself over, and over, and won’t end a conversation until you validate her in some way (agree with her point, give her a compliment, etc.).” This sounds like a good time to be direct and ask her why she is repeating herself. This doesn’t have to come across as aggressive or harsh, it can be asked with a ‘confused’ leaning if that makes it easier (it would for me). I know Alison has written about this sort of approach before, maybe you can find a good script in the archives. But something like “Susan, you’ve mentioned ______ several times now, and I’m a bit confused. Am I missing something or not understanding you? Is there something you’re needing from me?” Say it with genuine but polite confusion, and then stop talking. There may be an uncomfortable silence. She may look at you weird. She may flounder with what to say to that. I suspect that chances are slim that she will respond with anything like “I’m waiting for you to compliment me on my genius.”

  22. Tuesday Next*

    Hi OP2, it bothers me that you say “I understand why she feels she can talk down to me, I look very young, I’m a front desk person, and she’s a step up on the admin chain.” Neither of those things make it okay for her to speak down to you. She sounds like a bully. You shouldn’t put up with this. It’s quite okay to say “please don’t speak down to me”, and if that makes things uncomfortable, that’s on her. Please don’t allow her to trample on you.

    You also don’t need to put up with her refusing to end a conversation until you’ve followed her script. It’s fine to say “I don’t agree, but let’s agree to disagree” or “I don’t want to discuss it any more” or “I have work to do, I can’t talk you now”. Any awkwardness is again due to her rudeness and lack of boundaries.

    If she tells you that you “have to” teach her to use design software, you can say “I don’t have time to teach you to design”. Let your manager know what’s going on so that she can back you up.

    Practice saying these things in the mirror or with a friend so that you can get used to the idea of speaking back to her, and don’t allow her reaction to derail you.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Exactly. I’m older with some younger colleagues and I treat them with respect. Period. There’s no justification for this.

    2. neverjaunty*

      This. Speaking down to people because they are younger or you outrank them is crappy behavior, period.

    3. Lil Fidget*

      FWIW I have over time developed an impressive technique of sort of … freezing people out with kindness. It’s like an icy smile that makes people nervous. They may decide they have something else to do rather than bothering me. Hopefully they can’t figure out quite why, as I neither said or did anything unpleasant. It’s not the kind of thing they can complain about to a boss, either. OP should try this (show a lot of teeth in the smile … don’t crinkle your eyes) and maybe this coworker will decide you’re not fun to talk to anymore.

    4. LKW*

      Yes – you may understand that she does it – but it doesn’t excuse it. The scripts above are good. I would also advise if you are a young woman that you learn how to use your voice (your actual voice tone, pitch and volume) to shut nonsense down. You can practice at home, lowering your register, eliminate “up talking” where you end? every pause? or sentence? with the upward inflection used for questions?, and enunciating to be more direct.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Ugh, I feel like people always gave me this kind of advice when I started, and I know it was well meaning but it really undercuts you to hear that people just – aren’t going to listen to a young woman talking in her natural voice and style. YMMV.

        1. LKW*

          Language is coded and you likely already switch codes between different groups. The way you talk with your friends is likely not how you talk to your grand parents. If you agree with your SVP and say “Yaaaaaaaassss QUEEN” well – that may be a bit outside of your company norms. If you use a lot of “Ums” and “You knows” you will sound hesitant and foolish. So you have to modify your patter for the situation. I worked on a construction site where it was perfectly reasonable to call someone an asshole in a meeting. I would not do that in my current work setting.

          There are some women who use a baby voice – and it’s weird hearing that from a grown woman. Still, you can have a squeaky voice and sound commanding, but that upward inflection is a killer. You immediately sound like you have no idea what you are talking about, even if you’re the expert in the room

          Voices have power: think Christina Ricci as Wednesday in The Addams Family. That serious, slightly monotone voice just says “Do not mess with me.”

        2. fposte*

          While I agree with you about the underlying devaluing of young women, I’ll counter the term “natural” there–uptalking, for instance, may be unconsciously deployed, but it’s a learned practice, and the professional world requires recalibrating a lot of other unconscious but learned behaviors too.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I agree that uptalking can just be a habit that you fell into and that maybe you can break (and if it wasn’t a derail, I’d have more to say about it in terms of studies that show it can be an effective technique for holding a listener’s attention – but I don’t think it’s relevant to OP’s question so I’d say maybe anyone who wants to have this discussion can join me in the open thread). But I did also get a lot of advice when I started out about talking in a lower voice and trying to sound like a deep baritone woman instead of my actual timbre, and it did bum me out – a) because it’s really hard to actually change the pitch of your voice consistently, and will feel very unnatural and strange while you’re trying, and b) it’s basically saying that I should be more like a man if I want anyone to take me seriously. However, that doesn’t mean it might not work so OP can make their own choice.

            1. fposte*

              I agree with you on the gender issues–I’m mostly pushing back on the sentiment that I hear sometimes, especially from younger people, that the unconscious way they do things is natural and that any change is unnatural.

            2. LKW*

              Point taken. You’re right – pitch change is not easy. Patterns can be broken or modified and that may be a good place to start. Everyone should find their own hard-ass voice.

        3. Thursday Next*

          I think it can help to think of having a distinct “work self” that has a particular manner of speaking specific to a work context. Which isn’t to say it’s not a problematic idea! It’s something POC in the U.S. also often have to do–“code switch” depending on context.

          1. MugMystery*

            OP #2 here. As someone who wants to become a manager one day, this is all very helpful to digest. Thank you guys! To clarify, I find it 100% unacceptable that Susan speaks down to me. I understand and sympathize with her insecurities, but its clearly wrong to belittle people lower in rank — you’re right. On instances where her attacks have been more pointed, I’ve pointed out that her comments were offensive. (She once said my clothes were ugly!) In response, she gets *defensive* and says that’s not what she meant etc. She goes to great lengths to convince you, and makes it more work to correct her than to ignore her. Unfortunately, I don’t believe she’s someone who can admit that she’s done something wrong, which is why I feel I’m up against a brick wall… :/

            1. J.B.*

              That behavior itself is a problem and I would definitely bring it up to your manager. As part of the why you don’t want to train her discussion. If she can’t accept correction from you why should you spend even a minute training her?

            2. AKchic*

              What she means and what she conveys are two different things, and ultimately, it does not matter.
              It is incumbent on the communicator to get their point across accurately. Period. If they haven’t gotten their meaning across accurately, they have failed at the communication.

              I found the phrase “Your feedback has been noted” combined with “I’m not taking advice on X at this time” to work on some people. Occasionally rephrasing to “I am not taking feedback on X right now, but your opinion has been noted” and then a subject change or closing the conversation.
              Make sure to document the conversations and issues. You will want a record of the issues. Feel free to bring up your issues directly to her, or to your supervisor as warranted. You don’t have to be Susan’s friend, but you don’t have to be her punching bag either. You are her coworker. That’s it. She is supposed to be treating you with respect, the same respect she, herself, expects (or demands).

      2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

        I have a freakishly low voice for a woman, but I still get treated like a child by certain people with bullying tendencies. *shrug*

  23. Aeth*

    Letter #2, I worked with someone a couple of years ago who sounds very like your Susan.

    “She just talks down to me like I’m very young (I’m 28, she’s a few years older). She slips in comments aimed at taking me down a peg. She tends to complain a lot. But worst of all, she has a habit of seeking validation when she’s speaking to you. She will repeat herself over, and over, and won’t end a conversation until you validate her in some way (agree with her point, give her a compliment, etc.). Still, I try to keep everything professional, light, and polite.”

    This sounds exactly like the relationship I had with my colleague. The only difference is that we were supposed to be in the same role so she had absolutely no reason to be talking down to me.

    I really believe that the escalating situation stemmed from her own insecurites – at one point she screamed at me that she was ‘probably dyslexic but her neglectful mother never had her tested’ after I passed her some meeting minutes she had taken which had been returned by the department head due to the amount of spelling errors. Any insecurities, however, were no excuse for her behaviour, which culminated with her repeatedly banging her fists on the table and screaming ‘I am furious with YOU!’ and ‘You agreed I was not being aggressive!’ at me (apropos of nothing) during a meeting with our manager.

    I certainly don’t think you’re being too sensitive. Maybe it’s just my experience, but it sounds as though there are red flags there that indicate that she is not reasonable in her pursuit of what she feels entitled to, career-wise. Your manager is going to be key in addressing this behaviour. I made the mistake of framing it as a ‘personality conflict’ early on, which seemed to stick even after her behaviour spiralled into screaming at me; my manager seemed to want to blame me for my colleague’s terrible behaviour. Even after the ‘not being aggressive’ episode I mentioned above, after she stormed out he looked at me and said ‘What have you said to her?!’ Don’t make my mistake. Keep your boundaries clear, don’t engage with her attempts to undermine you, and do not under any circumstances give in to the temptation to assume joint responsibility for her behaviour so as not to ‘rock the boat’. Good luck!

    1. CM*

      Aeth:”I made the mistake of framing it as a ‘personality conflict’ early on, which seemed to stick even after her behaviour spiralled into screaming at me; my manager seemed to want to blame me for my colleague’s terrible behaviour.”

      This is a great point. If you frame this as partly your fault, even if you’re just trying to smooth things over, this framing may persist. I’m sure Susan would immediately latch on to this idea that you’re to blame for your poor relationship with her.

      Don’t appease Susan. Even if she’s always asking for validation, you don’t have to give it to her. You said she won’t end the conversation until she gets want she wants — but YOU can end the conversation. Say, “Nice talking to you, I need to get back to work now,” or “Oh, that’s too bad. See you later.” If she gets upset, that’s not your problem as long as you are being acquaintance-level friendly and professional. If she slips in a comment aimed at taking you down a peg, you can say, “Susan, I don’t appreciate comments like that.” It seems like you may be trying to avoid conflict. But she’s not, so your choices are either to get comfortable with a little conflict, or let her have her way.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I have had good results when people treat me badly in a conversation by telling them ‘we can continue this discussion when you’re ready to behave professionally’ and either just keep repeating it or ignore them and go back to your work. People like Susan are looking for a reaction so don’t give them one.

        1. LouiseM*

          This is basically something I say to my three-year-old. I would be PO’d if someone talked to me like that at work, no matter how rude my own behavior had been.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Yeah wow. This is for if somebody is screaming or swearing at me, in my office. If it’s less than that, I might say something like, “let’s take a break, I feel like this is getting a little heated” (for a discussion) or, “I’m not sure we’re going to agree on this, ultimately, but I really value your feedback,” if it’s a disagreement.

            1. fposte*

              The problem is that a disproportionate response makes the OP the bad guy. If Susan is merely being condescending, that response would make me concerned as a manager about the speaker.

          2. Observer*

            Well, then don’t act like a three year old.

            The reality is “treat me respectfully no matter how rude I am” is neither realistic not sensible. It’s also another layer of rude and alienating.

          3. J.B.*

            When a coworker is yelling I will absolutely say this. I’m not going to waste my time and energy being yelled at – there are many more productive things I could be working on. Act like a 3 year old, get treated like a 3 year old.

        2. CutUp*

          From the letter, it doesn’t sound like Susan is behaving in an egregiously unprofessional way – not to the extent where these pedantic, infantalizing tactics would be anything other than jarring and out of line.
          There’s no need to escalate something you can just ignore. Louise hit the nail on the head.

          1. Observer*

            I do think that in this case, these responses are too much.

            The real issue is when to deploy such responses. Sometimes they really are, and it’s good to realize that.

      2. RVA Cat*

        The OP needs to nip this in the bud on general principle, but even more so as a front desk professional. What if a client walked when Susan’s in bully mode?

        1. fposte*

          We don’t have specifics, but it doesn’t sound like what Susan is doing would raise that many alarms with a casual onlooker.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I kind of disagree. I have witnessed this between front-facing administrative staff in my own office. I think that having one administrative assistant talk down to/undermine the authority and professionalism of another admin can be very harmful to how the 2nd admin is perceived by clients and others in the office whom she’s supposed to support. As a young woman in an administrative position, you want to retain the scope of your job responsibilities and be looked at as a professional in the areas and projects you work on.

            1. fposte*

              For me this will depend on the specifics. It certainly doesn’t sound like it’s behavior so egregious that “What if a client walked in?” is a disaster scenario, and the fact that the OP is more concerned about the neediness than the condescension suggested the latter wasn’t really that bad.

              1. MugMystery*

                Op#2 here. Yes, I wouldn’t call anything Susan is doing dramatically or obviously inappropriate. (Nothing like screaming – Aeth, I’m sorry you had to deal with that!) And she only talks down to me when we are alone, not in front of our boss. As for guests and customers, I can think of only one time that’s been an issue. (I was on the phone with a client and she tried to start a conversation with me about something not work related. I felt confident enough to shut that down quickly.) I’m definitely more worried about navigating the sticky issue of training her. I can deal with not being fully respected, I do not want to deal with being used for her own gain. I’m going to follow Allison’s advice and see how Susan reacts.

                1. Aeth*

                  Oh, I was only in the job for four weeks, so my Susan was somewhat more….intense…. than your Susan! I totally agree with Allison’s advice. It’s just that your account was really reminiscent of how she behaved – even down to the comments about my clothing: “You’re so [i]brave[/i] to wear those shoes with that top…” (!)

                  If I could have changed anything it would have been to take note of the red flags on the first day and get my guard straight up, assuming no responsibility for her crappy behaviour. I genuinely thought that if I could figure out how to get along with her then the situation would settle, but there is no ‘getting along’ with someone that views you only as a threat, and treats you in such a way as to try and minimise the threat you pose. That wasn’t on me. It was on her. Your Susan’s behaviour isn’t on you, either.

                  Incidentally, on the subject of talking down to you because you look younger… I look very young too, and people had assumed I was 19-20 when I was in fact 29. My Susan said she was 28. When I mentioned my true age in casual conversation, it was inevitably a subject of conversation among my colleagues. Later, my Susan hissed ‘Your secret’s out!’ at me – of course, it wasn’t a secret, which is what I said to her. She was inexplicably furious for the next couple of days.

                  Hilariously, I later discovered she had lied about her age and was in fact 32, not 28. So in reality, she was still older than me even after the ‘revelation’ about my age… but unable to use this information to pull rank without exposing her own lie. No wonder she was losing her mind….!

  24. LisaB*

    OP#5, you may want to browse through the job hunting advice on this site the next time you’re ready to move on to bigger and better. Mass mailing your cover letter and resume to “literally hundreds of firms” may not be the best use of your time. Good luck in your new permanent role!

    1. Legal Beagle*

      Tailoring materials is never a bad idea, but corporate law firms are almost exclusively focused on your law school’s ranking, your GPA, and other academic credentials (journal, moot court, etc). A cover letter that conveys your passion for tax regulations is not going to be the thing that gets you in the door. New grads looking for BigLaw jobs are in a highly competitive market; I don’t think applying to all the available firms is unusual.

      1. neverjaunty*

        It’s not unusual, but also unproductive. Law firms get hundreds of cold applications from new grads, and they’re rarely hiring from that pool; interviews at law schools and candidates found through summer programs or networking have much better odds.

    2. OP 5*

      Hi, OP #5 here. For what it’s worth, “mass mailing” applications is something that my school suggests for people who don’t get a position through on-campus interviews, and I did get a substantial number of interviews, and a couple of offers, that way.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        Just another perspective — My top 10 law school does NOT recommend the mass mail approach at all. One of my friends did not get an offer out of on-grounds interviews, and they had him doing very targeted applications to smaller firms near his hometown. However, I am very glad to hear that it worked out well for you! And I agree with Alison’s answer completely.

        1. OP 5*

          It’s possible that the schools have different approaches. I might also have gotten different advice because I wanted NY or DC law firms rather than my hometown. I ended up going with a federal honors program instead though.

  25. Jam Today*

    #1, you can and probably should apologize for your behavior, but bear in mind also that people are under no obligation to like you now, after you mistreated them. An apology isn’t a magic wand that undoes damage done by bad treatment. Sometimes the penalty for our bad behavior is that we have to live with the consequence of not being liked.

  26. Temperance*

    LW1: I’m one of those people who thinks that apologies are overrated. I’d rather someone do better than tell me that they’re doing better.

    1. Turkletina*

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that the apology is the *only* action LW1 needs to take. The apology doesn’t matter one iota if she doesn’t start behaving like a not-jerk.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Well, if you have to pick one, so would I. But I think the ideal is that someone owns and apologises for their behaviour *and* demonstrates that they actually mean it by then changing that behaviour. I think that acknowledging that you behaved badly is important.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      She can’t demonstrate that to them though since there’s no overlap. I mean, I guess she could be nice in the hallway and break room, but that seems insufficient. Personally, I like it when people acknowledge they did wrong instead of just pretending like they just sort of turned out nice out of happenstance.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      A true apology – where you accept blame and promise to do better – is worth a lot. Yes, I fully expect someone to do better, and not just tell me they’re going to do better. But that admission of blame in the first place is HUGE. Having Jane say “I was a jerk, and it wasn’t your fault, and I’m sorry” is much more profound than simply noticing Jane doesn’t seem to be a jerk any more.

    5. fposte*

      And there may be some people at the workplace who feel the way you do, but an apology won’t *hurt* with them, and it will help to those to whom it means something.

    6. BadPlanning*

      I think the apology and acknowledge of the jerk behavior is important. But I would not advise declaring you will be/are better — let that happen through actions. Whenever people declare things to me about themselves, I rarely find them to be true. The difference between, “I was a jerk before and I’m sorry” and “I was a jerk before, but I am totally better now. Nice guy all the way!”

    7. SallytooShort*

      I don’t think there are very many people who think apologies are enough. But they are an important first step in actions.

    8. Observer*

      Allison was pretty clear here – the OP needs to do better. But they ALSO need to let people know that they want to do better and x is what they are doing to make things better.

  27. eplawyer*

    #2, I would be so tempted to take my well cleaned cup, fill it with my favorite beverage, then the next time Susan comes to me for validation, just reach over, grab the cup, take a loooong slow sip while looking her straight in the eye.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I would take it even farther, “Susan, I had the weirdest thing happen the other day *take long sip from mug*. I lost a post it note I really needed and couldn’t find it any where *long sip from mug* I thought I might have accidentally throw it away so I looked through the waste paper basket *long sip from mug* and beneath some paper was my mug! *hold up mug*. There is no way it could have fallen in so I’m totally flummoxed as to how it ended up in there *long slip*. Isn’t that weird?”

        1. Lady Phoenix*

          As satisfying as hot exlax cocoa is, You also have to take into account rhe mess it brings. I wouldn’t want the poor janitor to clean up my revenge.

          Also, insert image of Kermit the Frog drinking his tea.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Good thought. Besides, such things can go much worse than expected – see the fatal college prank from Boardwalk Empire.

      1. MugMystery*

        Hahaha! This made me laugh so hard I had to disguise it as a coughing fit. I think I’ll hide the mug for a while. And if it actually WAS put in the trash by someone, then they’ll feel victorious for a while. But once I reveal that I rescued it, Susan’s going to see me drinking a lot more tea at meetings.

        But I want to clarify (as I mentioned in some comments above) that the evidence linking Susan to this crime is pretty weak. That evidence being A) she’s the only person in the office I’ve had any run-ins with, and B) when she first started, she commented that she liked my mug, then started using it as hers (she stopped after I asked for it back). Or it is possible that there was an accidental way it fell in – which I have not yet discovered. (Or for any Community fans, there’s the theory that a ghost did it.)

  28. Boredatwork*

    OP #2 – When you have someone being actively toxic, you can’t always mend the relationship. I like Alison’s advice to check in with your manager about the creative work and the programs you use. Make sure you are really clear about the complexity and time it takes to learn the programs.

    A lot of managers will take this as your way of asking permission to invest your time and toxic co-workers time in training them on the program. I’d probably change the language to “not qualified to train her” or “professional classes are needed”.

    It sucks to have to down play your own skills, but if you’re in a skill/knowledge sharing culture and toxic co-worker is as big of a whiny pain with everyone, especially the manager, they may take this as an opportunity to “share” your skill under the guise of strengthening the department.

    1. Ten*

      +1 to this. I got the impression that design is something the OP went to school for. That level of knowledge is way past simple training from a colleague.

      1. Boredatwork*

        The problem is it could be a learn-able skill (like photoshop) or some publishing program. If this isn’t OP primary job function and she’s just making flyers, the basics may be teachable over an extended time frame.

        I have a co-worker who has a computer science degree and can write code, that skill is 100% not applicable to our jobs but it doesn’t stop them from becoming the go-to person to help with simple excel functions.

      2. Oxford Coma*

        Agreed. The software may be teachable, but having an eye for it is not. Creative jobs often require an innate feel for artistic fundamentals, and Susan can spend all day learning a program inside and out but still produce crappy design.

        I have created a large number of technically advanced but “lifeless” Illustrator files. They get the job done, but they’re not art, and I would never apply for a creative graphics position.

    2. Oranges*

      I wouldn’t downplay my skills at all. I’d more likely do a two pronged approach.

      First to the boss: I’d state that 1) Susan has been pressuring me about the creative jobs I undertake at your direction 2) Susan doesn’t have natural design skills and make a guess how long it would take her to train you. Eg. “I learned this in 1 month, because Susan isn’t a natural and doesn’t take feedback well I would give a rough estimate of 3 months” 3) I wanted to bring this to your attention because I don’t have the time/willingness to train her and I am going to cut her short from now on.

      Susan: Start cutting her short. “Boss is in charge of projects.”/”There are lots of online help if you want to learn” become a broken record. She’s gonna hate this but the only other path leads to you trying to train her, becoming more and more dissatisfied and slowly hating your fun projects because every fun project will have “Ugh, Susan’s gonna be difficult AGAIN” around it. This is what she’s aiming for (not necessarily consciously) because then she might get the fun projects.

      Good Luck!

      1. Oranges*

        *Clarification when you estimate how long it would take to train Susan, I mean how long it would take you to train her to YOUR level. “I learned this in one month because of my vast design knowledge, to get Susan to my level in this would take 3 years.” is okay. Design isn’t as easy as everyone thinks.

  29. Hiring Mgr*

    I’ve been there on #4, having to write lengthy annual reviews with multiple categories for 18 people…It can be exhausting to try to differentiate when you want to write basically the same thing for several of them.

    One thing which made it easier was to initally copy/paste so you have the core review done.. but then go back and reword some things here and there to make it more individual.

  30. Parenthetically*

    #1 This has been fairly well covered at this point, but the discussion has me thinking about what it would take for me to be ok with working with my “jerk” ex-coworkers again, and I think specificity in the apology — not just earnestness — has to be the key component. If Jerk!Colleague came to me and said, “Hey, sorry I was a jerk,” with an awkward grin and a shrug, that wouldn’t do it. “I’m sorry for being a jerk” is one step up from “Mistakes were made,” imo. But if she came to me and said, “Hey, I look back at how I spoke to you with a lot of regret, and I want to apologize for undermining you/yelling at you/talking about you behind your back/failing to come to you with questions and concerns until I was angry,” THAT would be huge. I think it’s critical to begin by acknowledging and specifically naming the things that made you a jerk.

  31. Chalupa Batman*

    Screenwriter and OP #1, I love you. What you did/are planning to do is SO hard, but it means everything to people who feel they’ve been disrespected.

    Just curious-this is something I would typically do in a personal note or card rather than face to face, because if I were on the receiving end, I would feel awkward deciding what to say to “I’m sorry I was a jerk,” especially if I was going to need some time to forgive. I suspect this is personal preference, though. I’d be interested in others’ thoughts on that; would most people prefer a face to face and I’m an oddball, or is there more of a split? If you prefer face to face, why?

    1. fposte*

      I think that from the OP’s standpoint she really has to do it face to face regardless of the run of opinions of the recipients–doing it via note is avoiding the kind of vulnerability she has to model here. She can minimize the recipient’s uncertainty about what to say by tying it up herself and moving on physically.

    2. Parenthetically*

      I would absolutely prefer it to be face to face. A note would feel…hm… I’m trying to put my finger on it. Maybe like record-keeping? Or like putting the ball in my court? Whereas a face-to-face conversation would feel like starting fresh, and taking responsibility.

      Maybe the ideal approach would give the other person a conversational out, so they didn’t have to figure out what to say? dr_silverware above suggested a gracious closing remark along the lines of, “Thanks for hearing me out, see you around.” It’s going to take a lot of emotional effort, but I think a conversation like that is more valuable in spite of the awkwardness, or maybe because of the awkwardness, that the ExJerk was willing to take that on herself to make amends.

    3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      I agree with you CB, I would much rather receive a note. I think the best compromise is to send notes, and end them with “I’d be happy to take you to coffee sometime in the next couple weeks to start our relationship on a new foot, or to talk about any reservations you still have (which are entirely understandable).” Or something worded more artfully. The rule with apologies, I’m given to understand, is that it IS important how the receiver wants to hear it (if they do at all); starting with a note gives people space to have the reaction they want to have in the moment.

    4. K.*

      Definitely do it face to face. I have a jerk in my recent professional past (a little different because she was a jerk just to me, not to everyone – she was threatened by me. Our boss spoke to her about the way she behaved toward me on more than one occasion) and I wouldn’t take a note nearly as seriously as a face to face apology. It would feel cowardly. It puts the work back on my shoulders. After I receive the note, I now have to seek her out to acknowledge the receipt and accept the apology (or not). She doesn’t have to deal with my immediate response to her apology. It would feel less sincere and like she was trying to minimize the unpleasant response she might get, and to me, part of the apology is dealing directly with the consequences of the behavior.

  32. Allison*

    #2) I sympathize. I’m 28, I still look like a teenager, and yes yes, I know, I’ll be grateful for it someday, but it’s hard to be thankful for youthful looks when people keep talking to me as though I were a stupid little kid who doesn’t know how to do anything. I’ve been doing my job for five years, I’m not an expert but I’m successful enough in my job that people need to stop trying to teach me how to the most basic aspects of my job, when I never asked for help and they’re not in any sort of management or training position where it makes sense for them to coach me.

    And in my last job, I absolutely got the sense my older coworker was either jealous of me or honestly thought I couldn’t be trusted to do my job without her practically putting her hands over mine and guiding my every move. Then she’d set me up to fail by not communicating certain details of what she wanted, and then getting mad at me for not magically knowing what she wanted, like I was a naughty child who couldn’t follow instructions. Sometimes this weirdness from older colleagues really is a power play. They’re miserable in their lives, they need to feel powerful at work, and sometimes that means deliberately stepping on you and pretending you’ve always been carpet.

    1. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      What’s your shutdown script for these people? Not the rude ones, the not-helpful ones?

  33. ket*

    Idea for evaluation from a teacher’s perspective: make a rubric! Make a 3-column table in Word. First column, describe the qualities you’re looking for. Second column, write comments about current performance. Third column, suggestions for improvement. Speeds up evaluations and helps you evaluate everyone with the same criteria, challenging (at times) unconscious biases you might have.

  34. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    I’m not sure I agree on #4… I think there might be a better way. If you have 5 reports that all have the same duties and classification, I think it could be very very good to use a lot of boilerplate/copy and paste, for equity purposes. I think you’re making it really clear that you give personalized feedback whenever possible, but if I were with 4 other people with the same job, it would be really comforting to be able to compare my performance in really apples-to-apples way. Its easier to defend as a manager, as well, if you decide to give one a promotion or raise, but not the other.

    As others have made clear, the main thing is to make sure its obvious that people are being given substantive, personal feedback. I think you can do that while also having a section that goes over core duties, and that that section have copy/past descriptions for what a “5” performance looks like, what a “4” looks like, etc.

    Standardizing that sort of thing is thought to be really helpful for reducing bias as well.

  35. MissDissplaced*

    I love how people just think you can “teach” them all the design programs. Like, take a class already!
    How the heck do you think people learn them? I spent many years, and a considerable amount of my own personal time learning (and keeping up with the learning) for Photoshop, InDesign, FinalCut, etc.
    I feel your pain OP, I do.

  36. Elizabeth H.*

    I’m not sure I agree with the advice for LW#2 to talk to the manager and discuss how Susan has been wanting to take over projects and that LW wants to keep them instead. It sounds like the manager is already aware of this: LW wrote “Her results weren’t professional, and she didn’t take our boss’s suggestions or feedback well. So projects went back to being assigned to me.” It seems like the problem is more like Susan is being annoying about it rather than that the LW is at risk of losing the projects. So I feel like the advice and the suggestions in the comments make a much bigger deal of this specific issue than necessary. I think further engaging Susan on this topic, like giving her suggestions about how to teach herself Adobe CC (even for the cause of getting her to stop asking LW to teach her) or explaining how she worked hard to learn this stuff, will just sound defensive and egg on Susan even more to prolong the conversation and get validation. I would just leave that alone because it sounds like it’s not an open work issue anymore.

  37. Liz2*

    LW 2, are you in my old department? Admin coworker stole a pumpkin from my desk as a “prank” and was total looney, but mgmt. loved her! Love the advice given but definitely REPORT to management. Don’t call for action but make sure it gets noted because these things always get worse over time and you want a CYA and a clear progression documented. Those people are exhausting, good luck!

  38. 30 Years in the Biz*

    #4 -language on multiple performance evaluations. I’ve used the “Performance Appraisal Phrase Book” by Sandler and Keefe to prevent me from repeating myself. This book contains tips as well as sets of phrases covering thirteen review areas. There are multiple suggestions for each level of performance (Meets/Exceeds, Needs Improvement, Unsatisfactory) in each of the areas. I often take a suggested phrase from this book and personalize it to the employee and their work. This book has been a great help; I feel more efficient and I’m giving my employees a more robust description of their progress.

  39. Jar*

    2. Someone looking young, or being young, isn’t a reason for others to talk down to them so please recognize this behavior as nasty and a display of her insecurity. She sounds like a witch and sometimes these problems take care of themselves – she likely treats others poorly as well and this will be noticed. Be polite and keep your distance and no, do not share your skillset with this mean spirited person. My suggestion about the mug … keep it hidden for two weeks and then bring it right back out again and watch to catch her expression when she sees it. She’ll look at it, be surprised, and look at you … at which time you smile.

    Please send us an update, hopefully after Susan is gone.

  40. Meißner Porcelain Teapot*

    OP 1: If I were in your shoes, my first act on my first day at that company would be to write a kind email to the team, addressing that: 1) you are looking forward to working with them, 2) you are aware that you were not the nicest person to work with last time, 3) you are sincerely sorry for that, 4) you have seen the error of your ways and they will hopefully find you more pleasant to work with this time, 5) – and this is the most important one – that if they do have any issues with what/how you do it, you encourage them to tell you immediately, because you want to continue to improve and make this a pleasant experience for everyone. The reason I suggest an email, rather than a personal conversation, is because it doesn’t “put them on the spot”, so to speak. Each one of them will have time to deal with your return and your email at their own pace, but at the same time they will know that you are actively trying to be a better coworker. Good luck!

    OP 2: Susan is a jerk and I think you need to grow a polite spine. Excuse me if I’m overreaching here, but I’m guessing you’re female? It’s just… a lot of this “wanting to play nice” attitude while actually really not liking someone is something soooooo typically female that women get taught from the cradle and it takes us years to unlearn, but the sooner, the better. Next time she comes to you asking about being taught those programs, just say: “I’m sorry Susan, but it took me years to master those. If you are really interested, there are some great courses at school X or online tutorial Y that I can recommend.” If she asks again, say: “Susan, I already told you I don’t have time for that. Please look into the courses I recommended, if you are interested.” Next time she ropes you into a conversation and won’t let you go until you stroke her ego, just say: “I’m sorry, Susan, but I actually still have a lot of work to do. Would you mind if we continue this conversation another time?” And then turn away and start looking through your email or your post-its or whatever else you need to do to look busy. The point is: do NOT reward the bad behavior by giving in to it. Give her a polite, but cold shoulder, and she will hopefully leave you alone soon enough. (If not, then that would be a good time to directly call her out on her behavior. If that doesn’t work, escalate to management.)

    OP 3: I would tell her. It’s the morally right thing to do (and I say that as someone who gets very jealous, very quickly). Besides, who knows if she will even want the job? Higher pay usually means more responsibilities and more stress, and if she is just coming out of maternity leave, she might not even want that.

    OP 4: This is interesting, because at my job we actually just got an email from management last week, informing us that performance reviews would contain more standardized language from now on. I don’t see a problem with that, so long as the evaluation contains at least one opportunity to give personalized feedback. Say, for example, it’s a sales position, and you’re evaluating number of sales, customer retention, number of recalls, etc. All of those can be easily quantified and graded (exceeds expectations, meets expectations, below expectations). But if you do them in writing, the review should contain at least one open comment field where you can gush about your employee’s not so quantifiable skills for as long as necessary. If you do them in person, make sure to include that personalized feedback at the end of each review. For example, but my reviews so far have been mostly the same along the lines of “excellent employee, pleasure to work with” over and over to the point where my managers flat-out admitted they no longer knew what else to add. Why make it more complicated than necessary?

    OP 5: As Alison said, if you already have interviews (including phone interviews) scheduled for any of those jobs, send them a quick email now. You can later recycle that email if anyone else you applied with comes knocking. I would write something along the lines of: “Thank you kindly for your invitation. I just accepted another job opportunity elsewhere and as such would like to withdraw from this application. I wish you the best of luck in finding the right candidate!”

  41. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

    #2 Head it off, if you can. First, it doesn’t sound like your boss actually asked you to train Susan? So, you can go back to your boss with some of the suggestions mentioned above (I liked the one about “I can’t teach my whole degree in X time”). Then mention you’ll start sending her to him if she has more questions/requests.

    If he’s worried about potential knowledge drain when you leave, you could mention potentially making some basic templates or instructions.

    Honestly, you might keep an eye out for someone that’s interested and trainable (meaning they pick it up well and respond to feedback appropriately) as a backup, but if your boss isn’t worried I wouldn’t worry about it.

    It’s kind of burying the lead–her attitude is the problem. She sounds like a trip and you seem to be handling her manipulations and complaints well! Kudos!

  42. GreenDoor*

    #2, Were I in your shoes with a coworker in persistent need for validation I might cock my head to the side and say, in an inquisitive tone, “Jane, why on earth do you always need validation whenever you say something? It’s weird how you can’t let a conversation end until everyone agrees with you.”

    Then continue holding your head to the side as if you’re waiting her response. Let it get nice and awkward while she tries to excuse or her explain herself. Calling people on their behavior in a nice way is the best way I’ve found to put them on notice that you see their game and you aren’t going to play along. And yes, do have a conversation with your boss in order to secure the tasks that you really want to keep. I have a feeling she’ll try something devious behind your back!

  43. Wren*

    20 years ago when my high school had a career week, one of the speakers who came to talk about their job was an HR guy. I’ve since learned from work life and reading this blog that he really did not convey properly what HR does, because what I remember from his talk was his story about mediating relations between two coworkers who detested one another, culminatingin a dispute about one person’s favourite mug. I still hear that guy quoting, ‘”Don’t touch my mug!”‘

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