I talked with Captain Awkward on the Ask a Manager podcast

On this week’s episode of the Ask a Manager podcast, I talked with the amazing Jennifer Peepas, who runs the very useful Captain Awkward advice website, which has amazing advice on pretty much every relationship in your life.

We answered a letter from a Captain Awkward reader — someone who thought she was helping out an unfairly maligned coworker but soon realized the situation was different than what it originally seemed.

You can listen to our discussion about it on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Volumes, or Anchor (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

This episode is 17 minutes long, and here’s the letter:

I have gotten myself into an uncomfortable situation at work. At first, I thought I was helping out an unfairly maligned (female) colleague in a male-dominated industry. Now, I feel like I’ve attached myself to a sinking ship.

Background: I started a new job in a male-dominated field (I am a woman) and really like all of my colleagues, my manager, and the CEO. It’s possible that everyone is showing their best face for the new lady, but I genuinely think this is a good company to work for. Potentially important detail: my entire team works remotely.

One coworker, I’ll call her Sophia, mentioned in a meeting that she is frustrated because she feels people aren’t listening to or respecting her. The rest of the team was a bit dismissive, which I felt was unfair, but I also didn’t feel confident enough to speak up in the moment. Instead, I reached out to Sophia privately and asked if she wanted some help in coming up with a list of concrete asks for our coworkers. I ran this by my manager, who thought it was a great idea and thanked me for looking out for a colleague.

I met with Sophia in-person (she was in my city for a conference) and it was… bizarre. I expected her to do a bit of frustrated venting, thought maybe we’d spend an hour coming up with a plan, and perhaps we’d celebrate our hard work over dinner and a drink. Instead, she was incredibly negative the whole time, and it was clear that she wasn’t interested in coming up with an actionable plan. She showed me examples of email and chat conversations that she considered “disrespectful” and “bullying,” but they seemed completely innocuous to me. In fact, sometimes *she* was the one being rude. I tried to ask questions like “how would you have liked Manager to respond here?” or “can you help me understand why you consider this to be disrespectful?” but she would change the subject and go on a rant about another person or incident.

As the evening went on, Sophia’s ranting turned into profanity-laden insults directed at the personalities and appearances of our colleagues. I tried to interject with “wow, that’s not my experience with Dorothy at all!” or “I’m surprised to hear Arthur would handle this situation in that way!” but she wizened up. She started telling stories that I would have no way of verifying or disproving, in which she was supposedly treated poorly, and would ask questions like “don’t you agree that’s a horrible thing to say to someone?” Quite frankly, I was a little bit afraid of her and thought she might become angry and verbally abusive toward me if I pushed back or tried to leave.

In short, I feel that I was essentially tricked into agreeing to a bunch of horrible sentiments directed toward colleagues who I actually really like and respect. I could go to HR, but if this leads to disciplinary action for Sophia she’ll know I was the one who brought this info forward. Since I’m still new at this very small company, I don’t want to be known as a person who runs to HR as soon as she has a problem with a colleague.

I’m wondering what I should do. First, I’ll need to explain to my manager how there is no action plan as a result of this meeting. Sophia *has* asked me to join her in some “2-on-1” meetings with individual coworkers, and I really don’t want to participate. I said I would in the moment, but that was only because I was afraid of her. How do I back out? How much should I tell my manager? Any advice you have would be very much appreciated.

And if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 132 comments… read them below }

  1. Katicorn*

    YAAAAAS You’re my two favorite internet people and I love that you did a letter together!! Thanks for making my day :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Also! There’s some special bonus content coming tomorrow — a shorter episode with some of our conversation that didn’t make it into the final cut.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Oh man you talked about the woman who was prevented from using her own bathroom. :o That was a classic.

        (For the curious, look for letter #354 on her site, a double-header under the title, “Bathrooms, Butts, and Boundaries.”)

    2. Dani*

      That was my exact reaction!! AAM and Captain Awkward are my favorite advice-givers and I am incredibly stoked to listen to this.

        1. Specialk9*

          Mallory is Daniel Mallory now, though not officially on Slate yet. Which is pretty confusing.

    3. Anonyna*

      Same reaction here!! This and Captain Awkward are the only two blogs I read faithfully! Squeeee!!

      1. carlie*

        “Squeeeeeeeee” was definitely the first sound out of my mouth on reading of this combo. :D

  2. fposte*

    “She started telling stories that I would have no way of verifying or disproving, in which she was supposedly treated poorly, and would ask questions like ‘don’t you agree that’s a horrible thing to say to someone?’”

    Miss Manners got people doing that to her all the time–coming to her with a clearly slanted story, and then they’d ask her to confirm that that behavior was rude. She called the game of Gotcha!

    1. AMPG*

      Oh, I actually think I was the subject of one of those Gotcha! letters once! Even though it was an encounter with a stranger, the details of the situation were so specific that I do think it was about me. And it really was slanted!

      1. Dopameanie*

        I desperately want the details of this story now. Care to share a link? Preferably annotated with your version of events?

    2. Stitch*

      My brother’s GF will do that in person. I’ve known her since high school; when we were teenagers, I’d get caught in the trap of agreeing (I was once forced to agree that being given ice cream that was on sale was a slight, even if it was her favorite ice cream). Turns out she hasn’t changed much in a decade (though now she only gives gifts that were on sale), so I do my best to avoid her and hope other people don’t buy into any crap she’s feeding them about me or the rest of my family.

      If I had to work with someone like her, I’d avoid them or quit. Bias is understandable. Rewriting life to fit into a narrative where the ‘protagonist’ is always right-to-the-point-of-sainthood? It’d make a boring book, but it’s downright toxic in person.

    3. Sarah*

      Both my mom and dad do the slanted story thing. My sister probably would except I don’t talk to her. My usual thing is to refuse to engage at all, like “I’m not discussing this at all”. Usually Mom wants to berate me into agreeing with her that my reasonable boundary was wrong. If I use that on my dad he gets really passive aggressive but stops trying to involve me in his justifications of why he behaved badly towards his girlfriend.

      If someone tried a Gotcha! story on me at work, I would absolutely avoid them and keep a civil relationship with them to bare politeness. For me it’s the mark of a toxic person best avoided.

      (I’m going to have to remember the Gotcha! game.)

  3. Lil Fidget*

    It makes me so happy that these two awesome people hang out :D I am a big fan of both (although I mostly only comment here). Now Alison go find Dear Sugar and Heather Havrilesky, please (you both work at the Cut right??) and you can start forming the League of Awesome. Dan Savage is … also an option.

      1. Specialk9*

        I adore Dear Sugar. I was given her first book by a friend, and I love to read a few letters – she makes me cry in a good way, and expands my soul. She calls people on their shit, in the kindest and most loving way, like I hadn’t known could happen. She makes me want to be a better person.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          Yeah. If you can make it through the Dear Sugar archives without crying…you may actually be Voldemort.

    1. Red Reader*

      I feel like Dan Savage and Ask a Manager tend toward material that shouldn’t have much overlap :)

      (Also, he’s kinda problematic, but.)

        1. Red Reader*

          I didn’t say they wouldn’t, just that they shouldn’t. :) the topic pool for that pairing is Very Limited.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Right? I started to say “and maybe Dan Savage” but TBH, I’m not sure y’all would gel. Sorry Dan.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I’m not really a comic book person … is there like, a Darker and Edgier member of the Avengers / Justice League that hangs out with them sometimes but not all the time, and pretty much only when the problem requires his specific expertise? … that sounds like the role for Dan maybe. (Is that Loki? I don’t know).

      2. Jadelyn*

        “Kinda problematic” doesn’t begin to cover it with that [REDACTED]. He’s blatantly biphobic, transphobic, fat-shaming, and has been unspeakably cruel to rape victims in the past. Oh! And racist. Can’t forget that one.

        I haven’t read anything of his for a few years because of all that, so maybe he’s changed to something that’s only kinda problematic. But I won’t go near anything with his name on it, and frankly I find it in poor taste to suggest that in such an inclusive environment as this blog and its comments tend to be.

        1. Shirley*

          Dan Savage 20 years ago is not at all the same Dan Savage today. He’s one of the few people out there who I’ve seen genuinely make the effort to evolve in his views, admit he was wrong, apologize, and bring on guests who are smarter than he is to help him undo some of his nastier thinking/advice from the past. He openly admits he used to hold outdated and harmful views about trans, bi, and fat people especially. I still don’t agree with him every time but I admire anyone who rather than digging into their views can examine them and change them over the years. I find much of his advice these days to be pretty kind, accepting, and above all helpful and I don’t know any other famous man who does more to bring awareness/fundraising money to women’s health organizations in particular. He’s a mixed bag with a complicated/problematic history but I think his net effect is positive and I’d suggest giving some of his more recent work a chance.

          1. OklahomaSpeaks*

            I think the only reason Dan Savage has made those changes is to protect his financial interests.

              1. DArcy*

                It’s pretty likely given that he’s only demonstrated “growth” on issues where his bigoted opinions were becoming dangerously unpopular. In areas where his bottom line isn’t threatened, he’s either stayed terrible or simply gone quiet with no acknowledgment that his declared opinions were wrong.

                He’s blatantly still transphobic as hell.

          2. Anonymouse*

            20 years ago? Where are you getting that from? 20 years ago would be pre-1998 and all of the crappy things that I’ve seen him say have been post that. In 2014 he was still using transmisogynist language and was espousing prejudiced views about asexuality in 2013, and those are just two examples I found via a quick google search.

            While I’m glad that it seems as if he’s stopped spreading bigoted, harmful misinformation about marginalized groups, it’s misleading to imply that those harmful positions were held a long time in the past when in fact it’s only been a few years since he’s changed his tune. I also was unable to find anywhere that he gave a meaningful apology, which for me gives credence to the idea that he hasn’t evolved his views so much as he’s modified his public persona in order to reform his image. Which, I mean, is still a significant step up from continuing to preach bigotry, but not enough that I feel the need to give him another chance or agree that his net effect is positive.

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          Are you talking about Dan Savage? I’m not pro or con, I only know about him from the TV show he produced. I’m trying to follow the conversation because I’m not sure if I got it right. I just don’t want to google racist rant/Dan Savage on my work computer. I think you understand. Thanks!

          1. nnn*

            You probably don’t want to google Dan Savage on your work computer anyway – he’s a sex advice columnist.

        3. ArtK*

          I think that you may be confusing Dan Savage and Michael Savage. The latter is a conservative talk show host who is really and truly awful. Certainly a homophobe.

          1. Wrong Answer*

            Nope. Dan Savage has been all those things, and while he is trying to do better these days he is still someone who did a LOT of harm. If you don’t know about the history, a simple google search will teach you a lot,

              1. Decima Dewey*

                Lindy West’s “Shrill” has an essay on working for Dan Savage, and how she could not get him to see how unhelpful fat-shaming was. Or why it was hard for her not to take it personally when he went on a fat-shaming rant.

        4. Squeeble*

          He is certainly all of those things, but I’d give Red Reader a break as it doesn’t seem like they knew.

        5. Indoor Cat*

          I was really disappointed when I found out, because the first time I heard about Dan Savage was his speech / essay “the price of admission.” Much like the Sheezlebub Principle over at Captain Awkward, the Price of Admission is such a useful, clarifying concept when it comes to how I think about relationships: If part of dating / living with / marrying person X is habit / personality trait Y, do I want to pay the price of admission of dealing with Y so I can date / live with X? If not, don’t take that step. If so, go for it.

          It also made me realize, ironically coming from him, that I was actually being judgemental of other people’s relationships based on my own preferences, which is pretty messed up, because it’s okay if they’re willing to pay a price of admission that I’m not. An allosexual person chooses a celibate lifestyle to date an asexual person? I wouldn’t pay that price, but they’re okay with it, so I won’t judge. A person who’s meh about polyamory marries a person for whom polyamory is part of their identity? Well, I wouldn’t want to do that, but more power to ’em. A monosexual person’s partner comes out as transgender and begins to transition, and the monosexual person chooses to stay, and also doesn’t think they’re bisexual? Awesome, you do you, even if I might not do the same.

          The whole thing about, you know, for some things, changing someone is off the table, so do you accept them or do you leave? And both are morally, ethically okay things to do as long as you’re not lying to yourself or to the other person.

          But then Dan Savage turned out to have a lot of crappy opinions about trauma survivors and fat people, and even believed false information which he helped spread, so…what happened to don’t judge, eh? I’m glad to hear he’s turning it around, but I’m still not super up to hearing him on a podcast soon.

      1. AMT*

        I was completely unaware of this person! I love both advice columns and cleaning (super into How Clean Is Your House?), so the rec is appreciated.

      2. mrs__peel*

        Speaking of advice columnist crossovers, Jolie Kerr was on the “Dear Prudence” podcast on Slate not too long ago.

    1. SeuciaV*

      Mine too! Literally the two sites I check daily are AAM and CA. It’s like an early birthday present. :)

      1. teclatrans*

        Those are my go-to sites too! (I have a third which sometimes pops into the equation, but it’s more interest-specific.)

  4. ThatOneRedhead*

    It’s such a great episode!

    Also, thank you for posting transcripts. I really appreciate the effort to make the podcast accessible!

  5. TheNotoriousMCG*

    As I was listening I thought that LW should share more information about the content of what her coworker said during the meeting with their boss than what Alison and Capt Awkward suggested and stress that she was made uncomfortable. I think otherwise the boss won’t realize what an intense situation had resulted

    1. Hornswoggler*

      I suspect the boss knows only too well what Sophia is like and was happy to let the newbie have a go at sorting her out, since everything they’ve tried hasn’t worked.

  6. LSP*

    Great podcast!

    I had a slightly similar experience coming to my current job, where one of my coworkers who worked out of the main office with me had BIG problems with a remote worker, one level above her. She ranted about him daily. I had to work VERY hard to not just blindly buy into her perception of him, and to instead reserve judgement.

    In the end, she left for another job, and as I worked more closely with the subject of her ire, I began to realize a lot of what she said was true, in that he had bad work habits, exhibited some sexist behavior, and could be pretty rude, but I also realized that all of this had nothing to do with me, and probably had nothing to do with my former colleague either. I just tried to stay polite with him, although there was one instance when I snapped back (as professionally as possible) because he (wrongly) chewed me out over something that didn’t even happen, and ever since then he’s been super polite and professional.

    Also, we hardly ever work together any more, so YAY!

  7. Mustache Cat*

    Just curious–do you get the permission of the letter-writers to discuss their letter or solicit advice for their issue with guests?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author


        And normally I have the letter writer on the show to discuss the letter, so in those cases they are indeed aware they are on the show :)

  8. HRH The Duke of Coriander and Gomasio*

    I was the new person in this situation, thankfully she is no longer with the company but she tried to poison me against another co-worker.

    1. Anonymoose*

      I remember reading advice about starting a new job (shoot, maybe it even came from this here bitchin’ website!) that suggested to pay attention to the first folks that immediately velcro themselves to you, as they’re usually desperately looking for allies (for good reason), eg: the first person who insists to be buddy-buddy with you could be a viper who has already alienated everyone else, so tread with caution. I always thought it was an interesting angle and it actually turned out pretty accurate, except for my current job.

      1. Specialk9*

        That advice was both useful, and uncomfortable because I am the person who’s always looking out for the new person.

        1. LW*

          Well Specialk9, having read this I will not give as much weight to your other comments :)

          1. Specialk9*

            Well if hearing that I welcome new people makes you dismiss my suggest you not try to rescue a new coworker when you’re new, well, ok. :)

  9. Barbara in Swampeast*

    As soon as someone starts complaining about how disrespected they are, I start looking at them, not the people around them. I have found that people who are self-centered LOVE using “disrespected” when they don’t receive the “respect” they think they are owed.

    And….I also follow Captain Awkward and love them together!

    1. Oxford Coma*

      The phrasing “disrespected me” definitely sends my red flag up…maybe because it sounds so Goodfellas. If someone complains that they are being “condescended to” or “undermined”, I probably listen with more of an open mind.

    2. Let's Talk About Splett*

      Yeah, if you are being singled out for disrespect, there isn’t much to gain by announcing it. Other people will witness it for themselves and either do something then or not.

      1. Anonymoose*

        I think I’d be too embarassed to admit that someone is openly disrespecting me, because it implies that I don’t know how to play well with others, or at the very least, don’t understand how to correct miscommunications. I mean, that’s kind of Work 101.

    3. Rachael*

      Yes, I have been acquainted with coworkers who feel that they are due “respect” which I determined later to mean that they want others to behave as if they are subordinate – even though they are not a manager, and are same and/or less seniority. It is hard to work with these type of people because….no. I’m not going to respond to you via email as if you are my manager or to report to you how I handled a call from a customer.

    4. Carpe Librarium*

      Yes, the “Two definitions of Respect” problem per stimmababy on Tumblr:

      ‘Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”
      and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”
      and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.’

  10. The Ginger Ginger*

    Also – as far as talking to the manager, which LW definitely should, I’d go with something like:
    “I did talk to Sophia to brainstorm some positive action items, but she seemed less receptive than we hoped. (Give a very quick highlevel/general outline of a couple of the action items). I left it in her hands to execute on those items. I will say, the concrete examples she showed me of some of her concerns seemed like normal office communications to me, but I’m also newly arrived, so I obviously don’t have all the context.”

    It shows the manager that LW A) followed through, B) provided concrete, reasonable, action items for Sophia, C) placed next steps as Sophia’s responsibility, D) consider the matter closed. Lastly, it flags Sophia’s potentially overblown response to her interactions with coworkers without throwing her straight under the bus or making LW seem overly emotional or invested in the outcome. As a manager, this is helpful info to have access to.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah but was it really a good deed? It was trying to create an unrequested mentoring relationship with a peer (which ends up being a power assertion move) and it was so overblown – in a way I expanded upon in a comment below – that it felt like 1 part kind and 9 parts feeding some internal scripts about herself in a self congratulatory way. True kindness doesn’t make such an effort to get credit.

        Yeah it went sideways when the peer turned out to be unreasonable, but if the peer had been as helpless-injured-lady-who-needs-rescuing as OP seemed to think initially, that would still have been a weird dynamic, just in the opposite way.

        1. The Ginger Ginger*

          That’s a pretty uncharitable read. Plus, if you’re willing to give guidance on this kind of thing to a coworker who’s loudly complaining, it’s perfectly reasonable to run it by your boss to make sure that would be welcome and in sync with the company culture. Particularly when Boss is going to have perspective on it that you don’t, as a newbie. That’s not attention seeking, it’s feeling out the situation. The boss could have said no, or don’t spend your time on it, or Sophia is just like that. Since Boss okayed it, (and maybe even eager to abdicate some responsibility on this squeeky wheel IMO), it was perfectly reasonable for LW to proceed.

          Sophia just seems like an A+ manipulator who took the small opening LW was offering and battering rammed right on through.

        2. LW*

          As I said below, this was never meant to be a “mentoring” or “coaching” relationship. I didn’t run to my manager to ask for congratulations for my ~magnanimous~ behavior. She mentioned to our manager that I approached her and she was grateful, so Manager asked me about it and I was honest. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          1. The Ginger Ginger*

            Oh boy, if Sophia is making you look like a “team” on this front to your boss by mentioning the meeting or discussing the content of your meeting with Boss, you DEFINITELY want emphasize to your boss that you followed through and are considering this matter 100% done/closed, aka no longer your concern. Because that behavior is absolutely her trying to give the appearance to the office at large that you are on her side, and you want to nip that in the bud ASAP.

            Then friendly but distant is how you treat her forever more. If she tries to put words in your mouth or present the two of you as a unified front in future, a pleasant but confused “I never said that” or something similar in the moment will help communicate to your other coworkers that Sophia is making things up without requiring a direct conflict. You may end up needing to escalate to more blunt wording at some point, but hopefully that won’t be necessary.

          2. Specialk9*

            Oh, “I ran it by my manager” and “co-worker told my manager” are really different scenarios. Ok, with that change of scenario, that IS a different situation.

            It still feels like you walked into a new situation and immediately went into rescue mode. It backfired, and it would be easy to learn the lesson “no good deed goes unpunished” when a better lesson would be “wait, read the room, and don’t rescue people when you’re new”.

          3. FinaFi*

            LW, I hired someone very like this person several years ago, and it didn’t end well. I still have a giant legal file in my possession until the statute of limitations on defamation expires, in fact, because she turned on me within weeks of being hired and went to my bosses to demand I be fired for “bullying” her when I had not spoken to her in a year at the time. So, excellent advice below about how you phrase the closing of the loop with your bosses, but also record record record. And be very, very careful what you say to her. She keeps everything and obviously is inclined to use it to the detriment of others.

            1. LW*

              Yikes FinaFi, that sounds like it was a nightmare. I hope those statues of limitation pass without a word from your former employee… the advice to document EVERYTHING is well-noted.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      The concrete examples she showed me of some of her concerns seemed like normal office communications to me, but I’m also newly arrived, so I obviously don’t have all the context.

      This is really nicely phrased. The qualifier mitigates the risk that the one example you pull out will generate a reaction of “Ooooooh, yeah, the spaghetti incident is subtext throughout this email chain.”

  11. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, know that if I’ve worked with endlessly griping Cersei for years, and pleasant Sansa starts on the team, and Cersei starts saying “And Sansa agrees with me! About everything!” I’m going to hear that as “Sansa has murmured vague hmm things while I rant, which I am interpreting for her.” And I’ll probably hmm back at her, which she will interpret as “You are so right!” without my thinking poorly of Sansa. Do what you can to disengage from her sinking ship (e.g. follow up with your manager on how your plan to have a plan didn’t work out, with some judicial “I am phrasing this unpleasantness politely and professionally” wording. There is a risk of getting tied to her, especially if you are the only two llamas on a team of alpacas, but it is not going to be many people’s first assumption.

    1. spocklady*

      YES all the pluses to this. OP, the good news here is that your colleague is likely to be a known issue, so if you don’t visibly take up her causes or engage further with her, people will know who the real issue is. And it won’t be you.

      That meeting sounds really awful, I’m sorry you had to go through that. Yergh.

    2. LW*

      This is really reassuring to read!! I was worried because people don’t know me well yet, but if they generally see me as pleasant and her as… a problem… then hopefully my work and actions can stand on their own, regardless of what this coworker tries to claim.

    3. Apari*

      Yes, and it’s very possible that your boss expected your coworker to vent negativity rather than fix the problem, but they thought there was also a (smaller) chance it would work and also they didn’t want to discourage you from volunteering to help in the future, so they were all, well, I’ll let her try and see how it goes. Then when you give them a high level ‘it did not go great’ as per the suggested scripts, they’ll be right there with you to pick up what you’re putting down, and not judging you for anything. (I hope that makes sense.) Like even if your boss thought it was maybe a lost cause, they thought it would be worth a shot – you’d either make you coworker happier (win) or learn some useful info about your coworker (not a big win, but still valuable info for you to have). So maybe you don’t have to be too nervous about your boss, they might know more than you realise.

  12. AMT*

    I love it when I read a letter that makes me think, “I’ve had that happen to me, but I didn’t realize that was an entire category of thing!” The new-workplace-BFF-seeking-a-Survivor-type-ally-in-their-war-on-their-coworkers could be an entire chapter in a book about things people new to the workplace should know.

    In my case, the Survivor Coworker came with a lot of TMI early in the relationship (do I really need to know about your ongoing conflict with so-and-so in my first week?) and some weird negging (“When you first came on, Team Lead thought you weren’t that great, but I think…”) Luckily, I was *not* new to the workplace and quickly decided that I would keep my conversations with her short and superficial, since I knew that she would use anything I told her against me or someone else. She tried to get past that wall (“What do you think of so-and-so?”), but I gave her absolutely zero gossip and she eventually gave up.

    1. Alucius*

      This is also a thing in my clergy-adjacent field. I’ve heard stories from clergy new a to church revealing that the people who were the friendliest and most welcoming at first had a particular agenda they wanted to get the new minister onside with right from the get-go. If the minister didn’t adopt their point of view…unpleasantness ensued.

      1. AMT*

        Sometimes, I feel like church communities, LGBTQ groups, and geek hobby clubs are all bizarro-world versions of the same thing. Weird group dynamics aplenty. Tons of Geek Social Fallacies. Cliques like you wouldn’t believe. I suppose the uniting factor is an ethos that is some version of “exclude no one, tolerate everyone.”

        1. Specialk9*

          That’s a fascinating connection of 3 groups that I’m actually totally seeing, but wouldn’t have connected on my own.

        2. Sara without an H*

          Thanks for putting that into words. I’d noticed some similarities, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

        3. Liz*

          For sure. I’m involved in the local SF convention group, and my mother is involved in right wing politics. We disagree on a lot of things, but we enjoy watching the same sorts of drama play out in both circles.

    2. Anonymoose*

      “When you first came on, Team Lead thought you weren’t that great, but I think…”

      Just, ew. What manipulative crap.

      1. AMT*

        It was, and it was so transparent! She might as well have worn a sign that said “NEVER, EVER TRUST OR CONFIDE IN ME.”

      2. Triple Anon*

        Yeah. I run from anything like that these days. People who neg, regardless of what the goal is, are not cool.

  13. Marillenbaum*

    I did love the advice about being wary of coworkers who immediately come to you with all of their office beef when you’re new–I call it “Wickham-ing”. It’s generally not a great sign when someone buddies up and tells you all about how awful everyone else is before you’ve had the chance to come to your own judgments.

    1. fposte*

      Ooh, I like “Wickhaming.” And in general, I think it’s best to avoid a quick buddy-up when you get to a workplace–stay friendly to everybody and develop your own lens first.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Hahaha what a great literary phenomenon for this example. (for those who aren’t Austen fans, this is from Pride and Prejudice).

    3. Kelly L.*

      Love it! Yeah, I had one person come up to me my first day here and tell me that Other Person resented me because Other Person secretly wanted my job instead of hers and so on…and all it made me do was distrust the first person. Other Person and I ended up getting along fine.

  14. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard of “two on one” meetings. Is this a common thing? What is the purpose?

    1. Alucius*

      I mean, ideally if you have team members in conflict you’d involve a the third party as an unbiased mediator . However, it seems here that Sophia is looking for backup to support her predetermined views.

    2. LW*

      I’m the LW (and was hoping to see some AAM commentors discuss the podcast ep!) – I had initially suggested that she have 1:1 meetings with people who she felt were behaving rudely toward her rather than trying to bring it up in a team meeting. She turned that into “great, you can join to see how awful these people are!” Which was… not at all what I intended or wanted.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Um, yeah, that sounds terrible and you are right to not want any part of it.

  15. Specialk9*

    OP, I’m wondering if you have a Rescuer habit in general?

    You’re the new person, saw something maybe happen to a peer, reached out to the person who seemed like they were a bit wronged, talked to your manager (!), and set out this elaborate multi-hour meeting (with dinner and drinks after) for coaching and mentoring your peer (!), with expectations for a written action plan (!). Whoa.

    Honestly, it feels like you had a kind impulse, which is nice, but you way overstepped your own role, tried to create this massive thing, and jumped naively into the new job’s Issues stewpot. Also it sounds like you wanted to be seen by your manager for Being Nice, as much as actually being kind, which is something to consider too.

    Next time wait a bit and ease into the waters slower, don’t try to mentor peers like they’re subordinates, and have a quiet chat rather than a big giant Thing that you announce to your boss.

    1. LW*

      I honestly did not see this as mentoring relationship. I thought having a plan would keep our meeting short, because there was an objective attached! I most certainly did NOT want a multi-hour meeting in which I coached her through individual conflicts.

    2. The Ginger Ginger*

      Wow. This seems like the most uncharitable reading of this situation possible, and I don’t really think there’s anything in the original letter to support it. Offering to give high level, outsider-perspective feedback as a ONE TIME thing on a situation that the primary person is clearly very upset about isn’t necessarily setting up any kind of mentor dynamic. It’s offering an objective perspective and sounding board, ONCE. Mentorship requires a long-term, ongoing investment, and nothing in the original letter indicates that was the goal of this exercise.

      I can maybe agree that waiting to see how the interactions played out a bit more before jumping in would have been prudent, but given how loud Sophia seemed to be in her complaints, the impulse to FIX IT for a fellow woman in an industry dominated by not-women is pretty understandable.

      1. LW*

        Thank you, Ginger Ginger. I don’t know if it makes a difference, but Sofia is senior to me, both in tenure at this company and in our careers. I also agree that I should have waited a bit before getting involved in team dynamics, but the words “mentor” and “coach” never crossed my mind until I heard Alison and Jennifer say them.

        1. The Ginger Ginger*

          She’s senior?! In the org chart, or just tenure and career length? Because WOW. I bet that made it even harder to break out of that “meeting”. She was probably a run away train. But also, it’s SUPER inappropriate for her to be complaining so hard to you if she’s higher than you on the org chart. And I’m also side-eyeing your boss pretty hard for green lighting this whole thing. It makes me think that Boss is aware that Sophia is a real problem, but is either exhausted/numb or abdicating responsibility about managing her. She sounds pretty toxic to the team. I bet Boss was hoping you’d work some type of ridiculous miracle or (more likely) distract her ire from Boss’s inbox for while.

          I definitely don’t blame you for wanting to help, and on a small team sometimes hierarchy is really fluid, but it is so strange to me that your boss thought that putting you in that kind of dynamic with a “superior” was a reasonable thing to do.

          Definitely, definitely close the loop on this with your boss (maybe with the script I typed out above) because while you’re definitely not as deeply entangled with her as I think you’re worried about, you DO want to uncouple yourself from this crazy train as quickly and gracefully as possible. Wash your hands of it and back away slowly. And don’t let your boss leverage you into taking on any kind of additional responsibility for this person until and unless you have the title and position on the org chart to do it.

          1. LW*

            Oops, I should have been clearer – she’s been at the company longer and has several more years’ of work experience than I do, but she is not “above” me on the org chart. But I think what you wrote still stands – I kind of wish my manager had not okayed this whole thing, and I agree that I should close the loop.

      2. Specialk9*

        It’s not meant to be uncharitable, it’s meant to be a suggestion for checking what their motivations were. A lot of us do things that are mostly about us, but we sell it to ourselves, without meaning to, as about helping other people. And all I have to go on are the facts as originally presented.

        If OP looks at it with openness and it just doesn’t fit, cool, let it go and move on. If it sticks and she finds herself arguing in her head at 3 am, then there is something to explore there.

        You may be right that I didn’t phrase it as gracefully as others might. That’s one of the things that I read this blog – I’d like to find ways to be both kind and direct.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          Perhaps you meant, does OP have a general instinct to support people who cry for help, even if she doesn’t know the situation/doesn’t know the person/isn’t in a position to offer help/often gets entangled herself or ends up not being helpful like she intended? I think this is a valid question to ask. I know I’ve thought “I can fix this!” or “I have to do something!” and in the end I couldn’t and I didn’t. If this applies, OP has very charitable instincts, but should be aware that some people cry wolf so she should proceed with caution. (Of course if this is not accurate then please disregard!)

          1. teclatrans*

            Yeah, I am a fixer and could see myself heading down this path. The reason it seems worth self-reflection is because LW did the reaching out and offering, in response to things she saw in a meeting. She walked right into that one, and it might be good to have more awareness about how she got here.

        2. myswtghst*

          “A lot of us do things that are mostly about us, but we sell it to ourselves, without meaning to, as about helping other people.”

          Not gonna lie, I find this a little ironic in light of your comments on this post. :) I get where you’re coming from and I think it’s reasonable to encourage the LW to check her motivations, but I also think you could have worded your comments in a way that was a bit less judgmental and didn’t immediately assume all of the worst possible explanations for every part of the situation.

          In the future, it might help to acknowledge that you’re speculating on how the LW’s actions could be interpreted, rather than just interpreting them in the least charitable way with an overly detailed list filled with dramatic “(!)”. Then you could follow up by asking a question about the LW’s motivations, rather than making a pretty negative assumption about what the LW’s motivations were based on your read of an abbreviated overview of the situation. When something feels like an accusation or a judgment of character, it can be hard to take a step back and reflect, but if you start with a genuine question (“Is is possible that…?”), it’s a bit easier to respond.

  16. All. Is. On.*

    I get soooooo uncomfortable when people start cruelly attacking the personalities or physical appearance of others behind their backs. That’s a deal breaker for me not only because I assume they’re saying the same kind of stuff about me behind my back to everyone else, but also because it’s just objectively a terrible thing to do. I’ll be polite to them if they’re colleagues, but I’m not going to be friendly with people like that. In a way, it’s a good thing because they’ve shown me their true colours and I know to be careful what I say around them.

  17. Mango Baum*

    I can’t believe it took me until this episode to work out that the voice saying ‘Got any wisdom for me?’ in the introduction is NOT Alison…I did wonder why she was asking for wisdom rather than giving it…*facepalm*

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