why do so many adults want to leave anonymous notes for their coworkers?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from a decade of writing Ask a Manager, it’s that people really, really don’t want to have awkward conversations. But what still takes me by surprise is how often people want to anonymous notes as a substitute for face-to-face conversation.

Fans of the anonymous note clearly think they’ve found a loophole that will let them deliver a message without having to attach their names to it, neatly bypassing the problem of having to deal with any resulting awkwardness. In reality, they’re just passing all the awkwardness over to the recipient of their anonymous missive, who now has to wonder how much weight to give the note and whether it’s serious or a joke, and who now must suspect each of their coworkers of being the note-leaver.

I wrote about this impulse toward anonymous notes for Slate today — and why you shouldn’t do it! You can read it here.

{ 279 comments… read them below }

  1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    One reason why people might leave anonymous notes is because they are afraid of repercussions. For example, if someone notices that Fergus’ door is unlocked every evening. They might leave Fergus a note saying that it isn’t a good idea. Why wouldn’t they just tell Fergus that? Well, they might be afraid that even while Fergus is grateful to know this, Fergus may mention something to is boss. Fergus’ boss may come back to the person and say, “What were you doing even putting your door on Fergus’ doorknob. You have not reason to even be need Fergus’ office!” You may think that is outrageous, but trust me, it has happened!

    1. Engineer Girl*

      So? Part of being adult is learning how to negotiate and mitigate consequences. It’s also learning how to set boundaries, which includes unreasonable expectations.

      Not wanting discomfort places feelings over doing the right thing. And feelings can be very very wrong.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Not necessarily. I was reading another thing on reddit with someone who wanted to leave an anonymous note for the spouse of one of his coworkers. Coworker A and Coworker B were having an affair, and apparently literally everyone found out when Coworker B’s spouse came and there was a massive fight at the warehouse location. Apparently, someone (unclear who) had been outed when testing for STDs. The thing is … Spouse A still doesn’t know, and the person (along with a lot of other people who knew her) is worried that she is being exposed to things completely unaware. But both the affair people outrank that person. So, if she tell the wife using her real name, there’s a good chance she could be fired. But if she doesn’t, the wife could get a serious illness (as well as having a cheating husband).

        So, she was asking for advice on what to include in an anonymous letter.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Wow, I so want to let spouse A know! I always want to fix things.
          In this case, maybe spouse A’s boss (or someone at equal or greater rank to the cheaters) could be informed and tell Spouse A?
          It may seem like it’s an overstep into personal territory, but I think it’s worth it for two reasons:
          1. It could save Spouse A’s life and/or health
          2. The affair has already caused one fight at work and no telling what other inappropriate behavior. If it’s allowed to continue it will cause more workplace problems.

        2. Observer*

          I can see why someone would want to send an anonymous note. But, it’s still the wrong answer. Truly anonymous notes simply are not actionable.

          1. Specialk9*

            A family member got an anonymous note that lined up with a gut feeling. She confronted her husband, he lied, she showed him the PI’s photos, he admitted, they divorced. Turns out the mistress had written the note. She ended up with him (I’d feel bad but she was a nasty piece of work) and my family member eventually ended up with a genuinely decent guy. Lots of karma. All due to an anonymous note.

      2. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        The consequence of being fired? I don’t think that is something anyone has to learn how to do, especially when they are trying to be helpful. Sorry, I disagree with you on this one.

          1. cajun2core*

            Not sure because I don’t know why everyone was fired. However, in this place, I would believe that it would have happened. That is not a risk I am willing to take.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        Not wanting discomfort places feelings over doing the right thing.

        I’d say a fear that you’ll be punished or fired is more than “not wanting discomfort.” Maybe you’ve never worked for/with a vindictive, unpredictable, irrational person. Not everyone is so lucky.

        1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

          I must disagree with you. I don’t mind discomfort. However, I do mind getting fired. I was generally afraid of being fired or at the very least getting negative comments on my review.

          1. KMB213*

            I think you agree with Rusty – he is disagreeing with Engineer Girl and agreeing with you that a fear over being fired or punished is a valid reason to leave an anonymous note, and is significantly more serious than a fear of discomfort.

    2. VVM*

      That’s what I was thinking. Sticking your neck out to say something, even something totally reasonable, can backfire at some offices. I can understand why people do it, even if it’s not the most efficient. No one wants to be fired because they asked their bosses favorite coworker to not microwave fish (or whatever).

      1. A Nickname for AAM*

        Absolutely! I have unfortunately worked places where the person who points out an inconvenient truth is marked as “difficult” or a “troublemaker”, and have also worked places where being an adult and having that hard conversation is considered mean (because it hurts that person’s feelings) and gets the person labeled as “Hard to get along with” or “unlikeable.”

        I have had this happen to me, for speaking to people about simple things, like, “You are 20 minutes late, please be on time.”

        1. Doe-Eyed*

          Ugh, ditto this. At my last job I pointed out that some chemicals had expired and suddenly every single thing I said was me “trying to get the company into trouble”. Like, not “Oh god I’m going to OSHA!” but just like “Oh hey did you guys see? We should probably crack open a new one, oops.”

          For example, when we brought our safety stuff in-house, they got one of our guys to do it and he ordered a kit off of ebay and we were joking around that he should make sure they were genuine (as we’d both bought things on ebay that had been knockoffs and had laughed at it before). While I was trying to fix the president’s computer later, I saw an email (which he left open, mind, I wasn’t digging around) from the accountant down the hall detailing how I was going to report us for using fake materials and he should fire me.

          1. KMB213*

            Wow, this is especially egregious when there are safety concerns.

            I worked in a lab where (luckily, before I had worked there) there was a VERY serious chemical spill. (I can’t for the life of me remember what the chemical was.) The woman on whom the chemical spilled had to be life-flighted and the nearest hospital with life-flight couldn’t even take her. She lost the freckles on her legs. She would likely have died if she were thinner (her fat cells absorbed a lot of the chemical, so her organs absorbed less). Anyway, you get the idea. The lab hadn’t been following proper safety procedures for a while and no one wanted to speak up about it. Silencing voices in that kind of environment is ridiculous, and dangerous.

            Sorry for the tangent!

            1. Michaela Westen*

              That’s one of the reasons I didn’t go into lab or trade work. There’s always at least one jerk who thinks s/he is above the safety rules. I was sure I’d be the one to get killed.

        2. virago*

          But as Alison points out in the article, workplaces where there’s unreasonable pushback for raising good-faith concerns in person tend to be workplaces where there’s also unreasonable pushback for raising good-faith concerns in an anonymous note.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Except they can’t identify who to retaliate against, and there’s a slim chance that the note could correct the issue.

            1. Luna*

              I’m skeptical that an anonymous note would ever have the desired effect.

              If the issue is not worth dealing with whatever potential repercussions, then you have the option of saying nothing! Probably best to look for a new job if you really think your bosses and coworkers would react that badly to a reasonable request.

            2. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

              That is a good point. However, in the case that once happened to me, it didn’t affect me at all. I didn’t really care if it got corrected or not. However, I did feel that I did have to at least report the security breech of a very important being left unlocked every night.

            3. Observer*

              You think that the kind of place that’s going to threaten to fire someone for pointing out that “this could kill someone” is going to change their safety precautions because they got an anonymous note? Or would fire the person who pointed out that procedure x is illegal, is going to actually change their procedures because they got an anonymous note?

              I definitely do understand why speaking up is not always an option – although if it really is not an option, you should be looking for a new job. But, in those cases, anonymous notes are not going to accomplish anything.

              1. Bawab*

                In this case it seemed like it could. The were super paranoid about the person going to OSHA. To the point the suggested the poster be fired to head it off. That same paranoia would exist with the note, but they wouldn’t know who to try to get fired.

          2. Doe-Eyed*

            In my case, however, I was simply trying to avoid the fallout from the higher ups. The minimum wage folks USING the chemicals deserved to know.

        3. Glowcat*

          Right! And sometimes it happens in life outside work… a lot of people are taught by family or teachers that “you have to hold on and not tattle”, I guess it’s hard to change this mentality as adults and hiding behind anonymity may seem like a good idea.

        4. OnMondaysWeWearBlack*

          I had a young, female coworker (we’ll call her Karen) who was walking behind another young, female coworker down a well-lit hallway. Karen informed the woman that she could see her underwear through her dress, which was a VERY thin fabric. Karen genuinely did it to be nice, thinking the woman would appreciate knowing she was accidentally showing her underwear at work. Did the woman appreciate this action? Nope. The woman called HR and filed a sexual harassment complaint against Karen. Rumors spread very quickly about Karen being a perv and “staring at women’s underwear” while at work. Karen was pretty pissed off about the whole thing.

          1. Specialk9*

            There’s more than a little heteronormativity to the outrage that Karen obviously wasn’t sexually harassing her.

          2. Safetykats*

            Well, there’s a better way to deliver that message. You can tell someone their dress is a little sheer, in case they didn’t know, without mentioning their underwear. I might be very happy to realize that I maybe need a slip with that dress, but pretty skeeved to be told that you could see my panties. One is polite and helpful; the other is too much.

            1. Lunita*

              Well, I’d be embarrassed if people could see my underwear but that would be my own fault, not tha of the person who delivered the message. It’s not their fault if you wear something that revealing.

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              I mean…doesn’t “Your dress is a bit sheer; you may want to wear a slip” basically imply “I can see your underwear through your dress?”

              That said, this is not the kind of feedback I’d give someone unless I was pretty close to them.

            3. Specialk9*

              Yes thanks that’s what I was trying to say. I am a cis-het woman, and would give another woman a heads up about a shirt tag or hem caught up, but I wouldn’t reach out and touch them unless we were family or close friends, and even then I’d either ask first or for the truly close still find a way to give them an explanation first. I wouldn’t talk about their underwear or body at work. I feel like for an unknown co-worker I would really want to tell her, but would run through the ‘could this seem skeevy’ mental checklist and decide against.

              Not to say your friend didn’t have her heart in the wrong place! Just that it can be useful for women to think whether their action/words would get them reported if they were a man, and then not do that.

        5. uranus wars*

          Did we just have a letter last week about this very thing? The OP was a manager who couldn’t give people honest feedback about problems that were affecting business outcomes because the CEO didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings?

        6. Dust Bunny*

          This. I got to be the office nag because I wanted people to show up for shifts on time. I was THEIR SUPERVISOR. But I was stuck because my bosses wanted them to be on time but didn’t want to deal with them complaining, so no matter what I did, I was wrong.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        But the anonymous fish microwaving note isn’t going to go any better than saying “I don’t like the smell” out loud. Especially as the boss is apparently aware of and fine with the fish microwaving. There is no scenario in which the boss was fine…. until the anonymous note!

      3. CowardHomment*

        The requester wants the behavior to change without any repercussions on their part. In fact,the requester believes the original behavior to be unjust or causes a burden and for there to be any repercussions would only add to the original unfairness/burden. Thus the unsigned note.

    3. Huh*

      I got the impression we were talking about anonymous notes of a different nature – with a complaint or not-so-nice recommendation for the one who gets the note. IE a la high school, “wear deodorant.” Your note is of a different nature, it covers something people would actually want to know and notes of that nature actually aren’t bad anyway – it’s not like we need to ban post-its from offices!

    4. irene adler*

      Yes. It’s called “shoot the messenger” and it happens a lot. It’s a sign of someone who is incapable of hearing criticism or unable to take suggestions in the spirit in which they are given.

    5. Trout 'Waver*

      But that works both ways. If people leave anonymous notes because they fear repercussions, they are communicating that they believe the note recipient is completely unreasonable.

      I think there is no overlap in the Venn diagram of people who respond positively to anonymous notes and people who are so unreasonable as to require anonymous notes.

      1. CaliCali*

        Right, and this is even addressed at the end of Alison’s article! If you think it’s not going to go well when making a named complaint, it’s certainly not going to do any good to make it anonymously.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Excellent point about the Venn diagram.

        Also the Venn diagram category “Problems that can and will be fixed, but only if you send an anonymous note” is probably empty.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Also the Venn diagram category “Problems that can and will be fixed, but only if you send an anonymous note” is probably empty.

          Ah, but that’s not what anybody is saying. There are probably no problems that will be fixed ONLY if you send an anonymous note. But there are some that *might* be fixed, and that’s what people are hoping to accomplish.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            They’re still hoping to accomplish them without having to deal with any of the awkwardness that comes from simply speaking up in person, which was the point of Alison’s article:

            If a workplace is reasonable enough to respond positively to an anonymous note, they are most likely also reasonable enough to respond positively to a non-anonymous message – and are better able to get contextual information and pursue multiple solutions to the problem.

            Conversely, if a workplace would respond irrationally and unreasonably to an in-person complaint, they are very unlikely to respond positively to an anonymous note.

      3. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Not necessarily the note recipient but maybe their boss or their grand-boss.

      4. Rey*

        I am an office manager and sometimes when I’ve had a terrible interaction, I briefly daydream about writing an anonymous note. I’m glad that I’ve never done it, and I’m just going to draw these venn diagrams to remind me why. Seriously, that visualization is so helpful!

  2. KayEss*

    I feel like a lot of anonymous note situations are the result of someone bottling up frustration and resentment until they’ve reached irretrievable BEC-stage and are no longer capable of having a productive face-to-face interaction. So just more of the usual failure to communicate constructively in a conflict-avoidant culture, I guess.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      My favorite book is called “Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High”.
      It provides methods and tools to have high stakes conversations with just about anyone. The most important take always for me:
      – Stop telling yourself stories. Ask questions and get the facts before drawing conclusions
      – Talk early and often before the stakes get high. That keeps emotions low.

      1. KayEss*

        I worked at a place that put an entire 200-person department through Crucial Conversations training. It’s sadly not as effective when there’s already decades-long feuds between entire teams.

        1. sunny-dee*

          I went through that. It also doesn’t work if people will flat-out lie to your face or if they will engage in insults and personal attacks. Which, sadly, does happen with people who are supposed to be adults….

          1. Lindsay J*

            This was the thing that got me the angriest when I was in middle school. I was bullied pretty heavily, and the teachers’ responses were pretty much all “Go talk to them and work things out.”

            Like, what was I supposed to work out with them? It’s not like we were friends who were having a disagreement because I talked to the boy she liked and he laughed at my joke or something. Or like they were annoyed my backpack was in their path.

            They were making fun of me and insulting me, based on my appearance. Like, am I supposed to say, “I’m sorry you hate my face so much. I’ll wear a paper bag over if if you stop harassing me,”?

            Conversation and reasoning works when people are reasonable and are looking for a solution to a problem together. It does not work when people have a personal vendetta against you.

            1. poolgirl*

              This +1000! When I was in middle school it was ignore it and it’ll go away. News flash, it never goes away, bullies are only emboldened by no resistance. The only explanation I can come up with is no one wants to put the effort in to deal with the problem.

        2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          haha – not totally related, but sort of… At an old company there was a department with some really deep-seated/long standing interpersonal issues (new folks were quickly indoctrinated to one side or the other). The powers that be decided that more team-building was in order. So they all had them go to cooking course where they prepped and cooked a fancy the meal together. We all thought that having them work together around sharp knives was a terrible idea.

          My (totally joking) suggestion was that they do a game of bubble soccer (where you play soccer while wearing a giant bubble around most of your body – with just your legs, head and arms sticking out). That way they could work out some of their aggression and frustrations with one another.

          1. Evan Þ.*

            Plus, bubble soccer’s fun! My team played it last fall; it was great, and I’d love to do it again!

          2. Anon Accountant*

            I’m laughing at the cooking together. That group shouldn’t have been around sharp knives either.

      2. I am who I am*

        Sadly, this only works if the other party is also willing to talk. If their reaction to you opening the conversation is to shut you down (and they have the advantage in the power dynamic) there’s not much you can do.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Well yes there is. You can choose to leave that person. It may take a while, but you have the ability to act on the new data you received.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Well, yes and no. Most the time, people are trying to fix a bad situation. While leaving is an option, it’s not the same as fixing it.

          2. I am who I am*

            Thank you for that supportive response. /sarcasm

            Of course I can get a new job. That’s not the point. The point was I can learn all the conversational skills I want, but if the other party doesn’t want to engage, I can’t force them to.

            1. Luna*

              I don’t think Engineer Girl was disagreeing that you can’t force someone to engage if they truly don’t want to. But that’s still not a reason to leave a note instead. If you have tried engaging and they shut you down, instead of forcing it you are left with a choice- are you willing to stay and put up with the status quo, or is it better for you to focus and trying to leave? The point is that an anonymous note helps nothing.

  3. SoCalHR*

    We as a society (maybe just US culture?) need to be better at accepting constructive criticism. Face-to-face conversations would be much easier to initiate if there wasn’t a sense that the person on the other side may flip out over something that shouldn’t be a big deal – or hold a grudge. But I think that is some people’s legitimate concerns.

    Also the other side of that, is that some people have issue asking for what they need (a quieter environment, dog-free area, etc.) and they don’t want to be seen as a trouble maker or imposition for requesting those needs.

    1. BRR*

      This strongly relates to the last letter as well in my opinion. My best manager was the one who would speak directly about any topic. And that applies for both good and bad. When she complimented my work, it meant much more than when my managers who were indirect and conflict averse complimented my work because they always would say that.

    2. another bureaucrat*

      It’s so true. I worked in an academic/health project with a few people who practiced clinically as therapists and group leaders. Interacting with them and watching them have difficult conversations was so eye-opening for me. We as a society are just SO bad at direct communication. It really made me want to get better at it and try and use it in my family and person life as well.

    3. ginger ale for all*

      I think this is the reason why I liked Simon Cowell so much when American Idol started. When he gave constructive criticism and the person listened and worked on what he pointed out, it was a joy to see. But when the person didn’t react well to it, it tended to be a disaster. Now I look for the judges on reality shows who will tell you when you missed the mark and how you missed it.

  4. High Score!*

    Environments where there is great of retaliation is probably the biggest factor. Or immaturity. Many young people have grown up in safe spaces instead learning how to resolve issues with those who don’t share their opinions. The internet exacerbates this issue.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I deleted a long thread here debating the concept of safe spaces, which was off-topic, derailing, and becoming political. Y’all, please keep things on-topic!

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I agree with the internet effect. Pre internet days you had to learn to live with whoever was around you because that’s all you had.
      Nowadays you can find your own little echo chamber and convince yourself that you are Right and Good because everyone else agrees with you.

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        I don’t think this is true.

        I mean, one could quite easily make the opposite argument – that people’s neighborhoods and workplaces were more homogeneous before the Internet and you were more likely to interact primarily with people who think like you. Now that there are more rapid forms of transit, and more ways to work remotely, people may come together who 20-30+ years ago may have never worked together. Not to mention that decreased outright discrimination (against women, people of color, LGBTQ people, etc.) have meant that there are more diverse people across different workplaces.

        1. SophieK*

          I see your point, but as a certified “old” I can tell you that general good manners and not airing dirty laundry were the rule of the day. Coming to work and dumping your personal problems on your co irkers? No. Uh uh. That would get you fired. No politics at work. Nobody talking your ear off about their latest pet cause. No expectation that everybody be BFFs.

          Now coming to work to work and refusing to get sucked into drama and wanting a strong divide between work and your personal life gets you labeled a bish. There is something wrong here.

          1. Delphine*

            I work at a professional office full of young employees. We know how to keep it business. My dad, also a certified “old”, worked in an academic setting and good manners etc. were unheard of. Sweeping generalizations about the “good old days” are almost always wrong.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      I don’t think age has anything to do with it. People of all ages, who grew up both pre and post internet seem to have no problem finding echo chambers.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      I’m not sure it’s ageism Vs culture of a certain generation. The current generation isn’t forced to be with people not like them. Pre-internet you didn’t have that. You pretty much had to suck it up.

      1. Tangerina*

        Even Pre-Internet, you could choose not to communicate with people you weren’t like. It’s been going on for ages.

      2. lisalee*

        I disagree. Recent studies have shown, after all, that most Americans live, work, and socialize almost exclusively with people of their same race, religion, and class because our communities are very segregated.

        I’m a millennial who grew up with the internet, and without it I certainly would not know the variety of people that I do. The nice thing about internet communities is that you often connect with people on one axis (like, you’re all fans of llamas) but you might be wildly different in other ways. I was raised in a small, homogeneous town, but one of my good friends growing up was a Bangladeshi girl who I met on a fandom website. Internet communication is different, yes, but it isn’t any more inherently bubble-ish than meatspace.

      3. Kelly L.*

        Past generations used to have actual laws keeping people unlike them from living in entire cities.

    5. High Score!*

      Good point, but I remember the days pre internet and there was a lot more interpersonal communication, even for introverts like me. And maybe it’s still not an age thing, because I like to hide in the internet places where everyone agrees with me. So I force myself to limit my own internet time and go be with people. If that’s tough for me, I can see it being way more difficult for those who grew up with the internet.

    6. sunny-dee*

      No, a safe space is one where you don’t have to be exposed to an idea or opinion that you don’t like. And even more than that — it positions any kind of counterpoint as “threatening” and “unsafe.” It’s why people make fun of it. It’s not about expressing opinions safely, it’s about being safe from opinions. (That is seriously the definition: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/safe%20space)

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        No, that’s actually completely wrong. In the definition you linked, threatening ideas and conversations are ideas and conversations are directly threaten people. Think racist, slut-shaming, and bigotry. Threatening isn’t defined as challenging ideas or conversations.

        Your interpretation is a right-wing pundit version meant to mock liberals.

    7. High Score!*

      Wasn’t a jab, just a point. I’ve been called a “hater” for saying or typing things like, “(x) is actually a misleading statistic, consider factors (y) and (z)”. No hater terms just quoted facts and sources, and I’m accused of attacking. I think people need to learn to disagree and solve disagreements and give a little and cooperate.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        You really sweep an entire group of people into an unflattering characterization (that happens to be false) and later say it wasn’t a jab or an attack.

    8. drizzly mcgee*

      Honestly this whole thread seems like a proxy for a political conversation and I would not be surprised if Alison deleted it as a derail.

      Regardless of when or how “safe space” was coined as a term, it’s probably true and partially relevant that the internet has enabled people to steer clear of disagreement more than was historically the case. However, I don’t really think that means we shouldn’t have conversations about why people want to leave anonymous notes and why those generally aren’t productive. Including all ages/generations/web-savviness levels …

      1. drizzly mcgee*

        Sorry, this comment was posted with a threading error. Meant to leave it on the original comment that criticized safe spaces.

    9. drizzly mcgee*

      tired young, love that last sentence

      If I’m to be faulted for getting a participation trophy in the 90s, was it other 10-year-olds who gave it to me????

    10. Mike C.*

      You’re just piling a bunch of buzzwords together as a complaint about young people.

    11. Phoenix Programmer*

      Eh. I am a millennial and very direct. I’ve never left an anonymous note. In fact everyone I know who has left an anonymous note was 45 or older! I doubt it’s generational and I am sure there are millennials who have left these notes.

    12. Optimistic Prime*

      There may be an element of immaturity in some cases, but I don’t think young people are any less non-confrontational than older people. People didn’t only start communicating in passive-aggressive notes in 2000 when the first millennial entered the workplace.

  5. Caffeine Cowgirl*

    Alison, You’ve nailed it; it IS difficult to have awkward face-to-face conversations! Many of us don’t know what to say so that we sound reasonable, rather than accusatory or whiny or whatever. Your ability to suggest how to initiate such conversations is another reason why your column has been invaluable. So, perhaps that’s the subject for your next book.

    1. Lindsay J*

      Have you brought her most recent book? That is pretty much what it is! A bunch of scripts you can use to address different situations that you encounter at work.

  6. Mary Richards*

    Agreed. I’ve only sent an anonymous note once, and yes, I was in high school. We had a silent auction and several volunteers placed the minimum bid on a high-value item and then hid the bid sheet for the rest of the event. They then posted about it ON FACEBOOK. That was just stupid, and the whole thing was shady, so I anonymously contacted the person in charge with a copy of the FB post. I put that more in line with “whistleblowing” than “gossip,” though, and I do feel that the best way to handle most of these situations is with straightforward honesty.

        1. Mary Richards*

          What’s even funnier is that they were both shocked—completely floored!—when the powers that be rescinded their winning bid. I mean, you did post about it on Facebook…

  7. LCL*

    There was one person in our group who made heavy use of anonymous notes. She’s now retired, thank dog. When she wouldn’t get her way she would yell and cry and threaten. Or leave an anonymous note. It was always about something really trivial to everyone else, things such as not resetting the radio buttons in the car or not using a shelf in a unit-assigned supply locker. Management didn’t have the stones to stand up to her bullying. I was told that I knew how she was and to stop provoking her after I left a signed note next to an anonymous stating anonymous notes are cowardly. Now that she’s gone, I can feel more sympathy for someone that dysfunctional.

  8. Mike C.*

    The complete inability of people who have direct co0nversations with other adults in an adult fashion never ceases to amaze me.

    1. Specialk9*

      Must be nice not to be punished for speaking directly. Women and girls don’t get that option. But then we get judged by dudes for that too! Awesome.

      1. Washi*

        Yep. And POC are often judged as angry or aggressive for saying something that would just be considered direct if a white person had said it.

        Totally agree that anonymous notes are not a good idea at work, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also acknowledge how difficult it is to strike the perfect tone to communicate clearly and still be tactful and not ruffle feathers (thinking of the examples Alison gave, like being too loud or having bad breath)

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          Well, sure, but that doesn’t mean the solution is an anonymous note. I’m a black woman who has often avoided voicing my opinions (or voicing them directly) for fear of being labeled angry or aggressive, but in those cases leaving an anonymous note about the issue also wouldn’t have solved the problem.

      2. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Getting pushback or “punishment” or judgment for speaking directly is part of the issue, but it’s also something that can be countered.

        Speaking as a cis-het woman.

      3. Myrin*

        I don’t think the “must be nice” tone is warranted, especially to someone like Mike who has been historically very understanding of feminist and gendered issues.

        (And FWIW, I’m a woman who did indeed “get that option”, so to speak. I don’t know why that is – it’s probably in the same vein of only having been cat-called three times in my entire life (I’m 27) – but I don’t think I’ve ever been punished for speaking directly, and I’m a very direct person by nature so that would’ve come up quite a lot during my life. My own experience obviously doesn’t negate any broarder cultural happenstances and ingrained -isms, but it’s not as easy as saying “women experience this, men experience that, fullstop”.)

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Part of the problem for me was my parents. I got punished whether I did anything wrong or not, and the end result made me afraid to stand up for myself. Luckily I had enough assertiveness to run or yell if I was in real danger, but generally I didn’t say anything even when I felt/was very put upon.
          If I’d had parents who approved and supported direct communication it would have been a very different life experience. Of course I still would have encountered chauvinism, but I might have learned to ignore or work around it and not notice it.

        2. Lindsay J*

          Same here.

          I’ve come to realize that a lot of my life experiences have differed greatly from the experiences of other women my age.

          I never really internalized a lot of the “lessons” that a lot of people seem to believe are universal experiences for all women, from not feeling able to speak up, to feeling like I need to do the emotional work for other people, to hating my body, to feeling I’m going to be subject to street harassment, to being afraid of walking through a parking lot at night to traveling in a strange area.

          Every once in awhile I become aware of something (usually via conversations on the internet) where I’m just like, “That’s a thing? Oh.”

          I don’t know what made my experience so different than many others. Maybe it was having a feminist mother. Maybe it was that I never really socialized with kids my age. Maybe it’s that I was brought up in a relatively safe, middle class area. Maybe it’s that I’m not completely neurotypical and likely missed/miss a lot of cues that my behaviors are making someone uncomfortable or are not typical for someone of my gender.

          I feel like in my field and career, being able to be direct has only been an asset to me, despite my gender.

          I do know two things though. I feel like you still can’t “have it all” so to speak. I know I’ll never be perceived as charming and traditionally feminine (and sometimes that does bug me) because being direct and the traditional perception of being feminine are at odds with each other. Either you’re being “tough” or “manly” while doing it, or you’re “nagging”.

          And also, my experience doesn’t negate that thousands of others have had the opposite experience. So I tend to not bring it up.

          I think I only did in this case because I kind of bristled at the implication that no woman gets the option, rather than a statement that many/most don’t.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Whether you feel safe or not, please don’t walk through dark parking lots or other empty areas by yourself. Unless you’re in a 24/7 area like, say, certain areas of Manhattan, don’t take transit late at night either. Take a cab or rideshare. :)

      4. Mike C.*

        I’ve spoken plenty of times about this sort of thing, your lectures are not needed and are mean-spirited.

        1. Specialk9*

          But your comment was the height of kindness? It was patronizing and rude.

          The entire point of this site is that most people struggle with being direct, especially when directness is punished more for some people. Being snide about that extremely common struggle is, well, mean-spirited.

          1. Safetykats*

            I did not take Mike’s comment as snide; I took it as factual. To be fair, I work with about equal numbers of men and women who have communication problems. I honestly see them as maturity problems. Our management chain has a lot of women; there is no rational reason for women in our org to think they can’t speak up. Luckily better communication techniques can be learned and people can grow from the learning. I do feel like people who have better communication tools are who have consequently had some degree of success do feel more empowered to speak up in the future, and have less fear (real or imagined) of retaliation.

            1. Specialk9*

              I’m getting feedback from multiple people that Mike’s comment was not as rude as I took it, and that his history of feminist commenting should give him grace. I’ll take that feedback. And I know that the people I’m really angry with this week are not here on this board.

              Mike C, I apologise for going full Defcon 1 on you. You didn’t deserve that, and I was in the wrong.

      5. PlainJane*

        I’m a woman, and I get the option to speak directly–and exercise that option regularly. As a woman and a feminist, I find the idea that women can’t ever speak up or advocate for themselves without punishment to be infantilizing. Yes, our attempts to speak up are sometimes (sometimes–not always) interpreted in a more negative way than the same comments would be from a man, and that’s wrong. But we do ourselves no favors when we suggest that we are helpless, fragile, delicate flowers who must be protected from everyone and everything. That’s a fundamental tenet of patriarchy, and I want no part of it. We can and should use our words to express what we want and need.

        1. Dankar*

          Love it! You said everything I was thinking, but couldn’t find the right words for.

          Sitting down and being quiet out of fear of how it will impact me only rewards those looking to keep women from challenging those problematic parts of the culture we live in.

          1. PlainJane*

            “Sitting down and being quiet out of fear of how it will impact me only rewards those looking to keep women from challenging those problematic parts of the culture we live in.” – ding ding ding! You nailed it. Also, I find that when I speak up and advocate for myself–in a civil, professional manner–I am often teaching people how to treat me. I act like a professional equal who deserves a place at the table, and most people respond accordingly. I’ve been doing that since my mid-20s with few negative repercussions. Granted one anecdote doesn’t equal data, but if we sit down and shut up out of fear, we’re doing exactly what you said–rewarding people who want us to sit down and shut up.

            1. Specialk9*

              I didn’t say women have to be quiet, Dankar said that. I said we’re punished when we’re direct, then blamed for not being direct.

              The studies have been published in the comments section here plenty of times – common wisdom says the pay gap is due to women not being assertive and negotiating for more money, but then studies show that women are actually punished and judged for negotiation. Women are judged for speaking up too assertively – too aggressively – and for not being the male ideal of assertive leadership. It’s a crappy catch 22.

              A worse catch 22 is blaming those victimized by a system for that system.

          1. Specialk9*

            Uh no, a victimising system keeps people in the victim box. I’m not taking on the responsibility for other people being sexist. People of color are not responsible for racism. Gay folks are not responsible for homophobic behavior.

        2. mediumofballpoint*

          “But we do ourselves no favors when we suggest that we are helpless, fragile, delicate flowers who must be protected from everyone and everything. That’s a fundamental tenet of patriarchy, and I want no part of it. We can and should use our words to express what we want and need.”

          That’s a fair point, but it’s also a little aspirational. As Washi said, we can’t always predict when we’re going to be interpreted and responded to appropriately or when someone is going to see us as the angry brown person/the militant feminist/the aggressive lesbian/etc. This is a place where allies and speaking up a group comes in super handy because there so much about my communication that, despite my best efforts, I can’t control as much as a white person can.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I was the first woman in many of my assignments. Yes, you get penalized for speaking out. But you know what? You get penalized far more if you don’t speak out.
            I intend to win the long game.

            1. Optimistic Prime*

              That isn’t always true. In fact, it’s often impossible to determine which will be more punishing or rewarding – speaking out or keeping quiet. Everyone has to make decisions which keep them safe and employed.

          2. Specialk9*

            Exactly. Pretending that women get to speak exactly like men without punishment is just bizarre. I talk to women of all ages and backgrounds in my male dominated industry, and we all have to work extra hard with our messaging, be extra careful with our tone, and still I hear so much frustration. Feminism isn’t about wishing hard enough to make something true, it’s about keeping going anyway and not being discouraged.

            I can’t speak for women of color, but I believe when they say it’s even harder for them.

            Wanting things to be one way does not make it so.

        3. smoke tree*

          I think it’s similar to the question of women being judged more negatively when they negotiate salary or ask for raises–overall, you’re probably worse off for not doing it. Although in the interest of protecting yourself, there are some situations in which it’s worth considering whether the sexist blowback is going to give you a worse outcome than keeping quiet.

          1. Delphine*

            After the defensiveness about feminism, the fact that you’re agreement is with a comment that implies women are infantizing themselves by acknowledging that they may be far more harshly punished for speaking out than non-marginalized people is…something.

        4. Delphine*

          This is just “women are standing in their own way” baloney. Women, people of color, and other marginalized groups have not self-marginalized themselves. The fact is that it is inherently riskier for members of these groups to speak up and pretending like if we’re just “””brave””” enough to speak up no punishment can hold us back is silly.

      6. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Oh dear, I don’t think this is a blanket statement. Otherwise something in my life is going on that I don’t know about.

        I’m a direct person (High D, if anyone’s been through DiSC assessment) and I’m a woman. I don’t think I’ve ever been punished for speaking directly, maybe once or twice when I was in school but since I became an adult, nope. Quite the opposite, I’ve have bosses (both male and female) praise me for getting things done and have been coached for holding back!

        I have worked with many direct women, who were highly valued (and compensated with advancement and I’m assuming pay) and successful.

        Feeding into the belief as a woman that you can’t be direct is just as bad (if not worse) than men who would judge women for directness. Good grief, who will stop the cycle if women don’t refuse to buy into it anymore.

        1. Lindsay J*

          This has been my experience as well.

          I can’t and don’t want to discount the experiences of so many people who say otherwise, so clearly our experiences are far from universal and I’m not sure why.

          I just don’t like having my experience as a woman erased because it is not the norm.

        1. Specialk9*

          He was being rude. Some of us don’t enjoy hearing something many of us struggle with mocked from on high. I’ll be flippant in response to brash rudeness, and rudeness from a point of privilege, when it is called for.

      7. SophieK*

        I’m a woman. A young looking woman. And I still speak directly because it’s the nicest thing to do in the long run. Sometimes I’ve been punished but very often I’ve been thanked for it.

        And women DO speak directly. It just tends to be about things that don’t matter (gossip) and to the wrong people (co gossips).

  9. Tangerina*

    Not saying it’s right, but the reason some people may lean this way is because of how they were raised. I was raised in a family of very indirect communicators. Being open and honest even with friends is still very tough for me and causes a load of anxiety and physical reactions.

    Also could be a golden-rule thing. I would rather receive embarrassing feedback like “you eat too loudly and it bothers the people around you” via a note where I can process and react privately. Having someone stare me in the face after I’ve been told that would be mortifying.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      “I was raised that way” may be an excuse for the first few years of your life. After that it’s no longer valid. You are an adult. You have the ability to change what doesn’t work.

      1. Specialk9*

        That’s so thoroughly not how humans work. It’s like you think we’re all robots. Self-actualization is incredibly rare.

        1. Safetykats*

          Yes, but communication skills are easy to learn and practice. It is so much easier to to blame the status quo than to take steps to change yourself, but only one of those two choices results in any change that isn’t random.

          Although I absolutely agree with you – most people will choose the path of least resistance. And then choose to be unhappy, and even bitter, about it. It’s an amazing thing as a manager or a mentor to find someone who is really interested in doing better, even if it takes work.

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          Well…sure it is how humans work. We learn certain ways of communicating within our natal families and homes; as we grow older and move between different people, families, neighborhoods, cities, cultures, we learn new ways of communicating and incorporate that into our world view. That doesn’t really have anything to do with self-actualization (if we’re going full Maslow, I’d say that actually belongs somewhere around social belongingness or maybe esteem). It’s the way that humans natively learn pretty much anything – as we encounter new information and new methods, we discard the old ones that don’t work so well and change them up or evolve them for ones that work better.

          1. Specialk9*

            Right but all of that is a big struggle and many people don’t ever do it. People who can afford therapy get a huge leg up on sorting through the way we were raised vs how we want to live our lives through choice. It’s incredibly hard! It’s not like we stand up out of a pool of childhood, shed all of our prior psychology and conditioning, and then recreate ourselves anew from scratch. I’m only now, as a mumble-something, dealing with some unhelpful early programming that’s been holding me back, and it’s hard! Lots of people never take a look at that early programming, and instead go through life using prepackaged programs that they didn’t choose. (Metaphorically)

      1. Anon for now*

        I would actually find it much more distressing to receive a note like that. I would be left wondering how big a problem it was (is it everything I eat or just chips) and how many people had been thinking that for how long. Face to face I would at least know who I had bothered and could ask questions.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I would assume this person was just the spokesperson and that it wouldn’t have been mentioned unless I was annoying multiple people, so I think I’d still rather get the note.

          1. Luna*

            Why would you assume that though? That’s likely to be inaccurate, and you’d be going around thinking something that’s not true.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        Exactly. Your choices are not only between “Say nothing” and “Leave an anonymous note that will leave the person feeling hurt and confused.” There are other options. The goal should be to resolve the situation with the minimum amount of fuss and embarrassment – it should also include that of making the situation as easy as possible for the person with the bad breathe or whatever. And leaving an anonymous note that says “You need to do something about your breathe” or “You talk to loudly” or whatever is neither effective nor kind.

        1. Tangerina*

          Ineffective TO YOU. Some people would prefer it that way.

          I’m surprised that the comment section of this post is very black and white from a group that usually is open minded to other perspectives.

          1. Dankar*

            It’s ineffective because, as Alison illustrates with previous letter writers, the recipient of the anonymous note often doesn’t know whether to take the note seriously, how to respond, etc. Anonymous notes are without context , so they can only really be used to register a complaint, not to work constructively towards a solution.

            It’s actually rare that a problem in the workplace can be resolved by telling the “offender” to stop doing whatever the note addresses. Sometimes the complainer isn’t aware of special permissions given, necessary accommodations, or anything that might explain the behavior or issue. That’s usually the kind of perspective that this comment section is open to.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I haven’t seen any examples of problems that would never be fixed if someone directly said something about them, but were cleared right up in response to an anonymous note.

            I agree with Engineer Girl that habits from one’s childhood only works as an excuse into the early 20s, after which you’re expected to have come up with a better way of dealing with things. But on top of that–no one’s parent was modeling that direct communication about what you needed got you shot down BUT an anonymous note about how someone in the house, can’t say who, wanted to go on the 10th grade class trip resulted in a form filled out and check for the right amount. People can claim “In X context, bringing things up directly didn’t work” but not “In X context, bringing things up directly didn’t work but anonymous notes always fixed everything.”

          3. Kathleen_A*

            Yes, some people “prefer it that way.” But not all. So by all means, let’s not look at this in a black-and-white way!

            Before leaving an anonymous note, you need to ask yourself “What will be the effect of this note on the person?” Yes, it’s possible that the effect will be “Oh, my goodness – I’m so glad somebody told me, and now I can take steps to correct the problem.”

            But I contend that a more common reaction would be hurt feelings and confusion. Has everybody been complaining about this? Did someone do this to help me or hurt me? Is this a practical joke or is the person sincere? What am I supposed to do if I can’t fix it? Those are all natural reactions, and I suspect they are at least as common (and probably more common) than “I’m glad somebody told me and now I can correct the problem.”

          4. Luna*

            I’m surprised that there are so many commentators here who are actually defending this as a legitimate option.

            While there might be a few people who prefer this method for whatever reason, most people have no way of knowing this about their coworkers (and should never assume this to be the case, because it most certainly does not apply to the vast majority of people). They are not leaving notes out of kindness for their coworkers, they are leaving anonymous notes because it is easier for themselves.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I can see it now:

              Anonymous note on each desk: Would you want to receive an anonymous note about something you did that bothered people? Check yes or no, and place in the blue tupperware in the breakroom fridge.

              Outcome: 50 anonymous surveys, of which 3 people would want an anonymous note, but you have no idea who those 3 people are because it’s anonymous.

        2. Clarice Fitzpatrick*


          I feel two ways about this:

          – You can find other ways to discuss issues with someone that isn’t verbal and face to face. Maybe do it through email or IM. It’s not ideal for everyone, given how text is fairly bad at conveying tone, but if someone preferred communicating that way and I knew it was in good faith, I wouldn’t mind.

          – In most workplaces, direct conversations of critique are a part of the deal. I probably can’t ask my boss to give feedback through primarily notes or email. Also, the effort of writing always feels “more” than talking, both in doing and the context. If someone wrote me a (non-anonymous) letter about a small issue, it’s gonna feel heavier than a “Hey heads up” conversation. I think this also why anonymous notes can feel so heavy because someone put in “the effort” of writing it. So to some extent you probably just have to….deal with it. Find healthy ways of at least processing the anxiety and mortification in the moment. I say this as someone who has anxiety and also often prefers feedback/touch conversation through email or other text-based exchanges.

    2. Carrie Oakie*

      There was an employee here who’d eat his lunch in his office, which was down the hall from mine. No big deal, most of us did that anyways. But somehow, every day, it sounded like he was eating soup – even when he wasn’t. And he chewed with his mouth open. And his silverware ALWAYS SCRAPED THE PLATE. I tend to be easily aggravated by consistent noises like that, and the sound of someone eating makes me gag. So the fact that I could hear this, 10 feet away, was hell for me. When we moved to a new office building, he was around the corner from me – still hear it, clear as day. Even worse was when he’d eat in the kitchen which was right next to my office.

      I never left a note or made a comment, I didn’t want to embarass him. But my dog, I should have. He’s gone now. But more people eat in the kitchen now than ever before. I’ve taken to just hollering out, “Hey, [guys name – WHY IS IT ALWAYS THE MEN?!] why can I hear you chewing/I don’t think there’s any soup left in that bowl dude!” We laugh it off & it quiets down for the day. Wish I’d tried that with the first guy.

    3. Observer*

      “Note” is NOT the same thing as “ANONYMOUS note.” That’s the key thing. If someone leaves a note saying “I know that this is embarrassing, but you really have an odor issue. Signed ~whatever name~” that’s one thing – and I’d appreciate them leaving me in privacy to deal with the embarrassment. But an anonymous note leaves me with no way to know what’s really happening.

      1. Quake Johnson*

        See, I’d prefer a note like that was unsigned. I would feel extremely embarrassed next time I saw that person. Not knowing who is judging me would be nuch easier to take.

        1. NextStop*

          You wouldn’t be looking at each person you saw, wondering if they were the one who left the note?

    4. Mad Baggins*

      This is a good point about indirect communication. I completely agree with Alison and others that anonymous notes are not effective or kind, but that doesn’t mean that the only way (or “best” way) to deliver information is directly/bluntly/face-to-face. There is a spectrum of communication styles across individuals and cultures, and it’s important to not conflate “don’t leave anonymous notes” with “explicit honesty is always the best policy.”

    5. Lindsay J*

      With the golden rule thing, wouldn’t a signed email or note work just as well or better than an anonymous one?

      That way they could get more information from you to clarify, examples, or whatever, later, while still being able to process privately in the moment.

  10. Anon online, not at the office*

    We have an anonymous reporting system at work for legit ethics issues, and have gotten a fair amount of Glassdoor reviews that are less than stellar. Our former CEO dismissed anything anonymous as being a “poison pen letter” and would not consider anything from Glassdoor or sent without a signature (even through interoffice mail) as valid. As a result, I could never report anything to anyone, since he was also the retaliatory type and I lost all faith in HR’s confidentiality when I came to them with an overarching concern that included examples of the reason for the mistrust of a particular group and the HR person followed up my “This is for your information to use in overall policies; please do not approach this person about my concerns” request by going to the person in question to tell her what I’d been concerned about and misrepresenting what I’d said.

    1. PlainJane*

      Sounds like your CEO found a winning formula for never having to pay attention to feedback. Be a giant, retaliatory jerk when receiving non-anonymous feedback + ignore all anonymous feedback. Sorry you had to deal with someone like that.

  11. Tears of Purple Rain*

    Before I had a dog, city bylaw would come to my house weekly to do investigate barking complaints. Eventually I got one. The neighbour had not liked my ex husband and it’s a bit like sending pizzas for delivery. I got a lot of anonymous complaints at my last apartment from the upstairs neighbour who misperceived my mute/autistic roommate to be rude and unfriendly. The complaints were mostly about day noise, which did not add up because he worked nights and slept days. Anonymity is the coward’s route. A fabricated issue can’t be challenged and delivers smug satisfaction to the aggrieved who is usually misperceiving social cues or lack thereof. Sad.

    1. LCL*

      Yup. Anonymous complaints are in general used by people who like to bully and like the drama. I’m amused in a grim humor sort of way at the nonverbal person being a target of noise complaints and being unfriendly complaints. It’s not really funny, but it is a great illustration of the complainer mindset.

    2. Self Awareness*

      “Anonymity is the coward’s route,” they say, behind a pseudonymous handle in an anonymous conversation.

  12. Amber Rose*

    People seriously hate any kind of confrontation. Seems to be a cultural thing though. I do too so I have been known to leave the occasional note, if it’s not convenient to locate the person (it can be very hard to find people). But I always sign them/leave contact info or something. I know that’s still not great but it’s better than nothing, I guess.

    I have a pack of sticky notes that look like the second panel of Dinosaur comics, because if I have to leave a note, a cartoon T-rex making a silly face cuts down the tension a bit.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      This. I have left notes for neighbors before, asking them to trim tree branches that were too low across the sidewalk (and where they probably didn’t experience it because their driveway was on the other side of the house), because I feel awkward knocking on their door. BUT I always sign the note and add my address.

  13. HR Ninja*

    In college I took a semester long course called, “Conflict Management and Resolution.” It didn’t guarantee I would never feel awkward or uncomfortable having difficult conversations. It did, however, give me the necessary tools to initiate them, as well as take out some of the stigma of conflict.

  14. Abe Froman*

    Hi Allison, this is an anonymous note to let you know that while you are doing a great job, your font choices could be better. Just a heads up from a concerned reader.

        1. JanetM*

          And I just remembered something from Usenet — there’s a difference between anonymous and consistently pseudonymous. I’m assuming “Abe Froman” isn’t driver’s license name, but if you use it consistently, you acquire a reputation, for good or for ill.

          1. Abe Froman*

            Are you anonymously implying that I am not, in fact, the sausage King of Chicago?

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I think Serif fonts are too formal and deviate from the casual tone you try to set with your advice. Maybe try a Sans font that isn’t so …..tragic?

        Given my anonymous nature on the internet, I hope you give this suggestion due consideration.

            1. Alex the Alchemist*

              I’m a personal fan of Wingdings, myself. Keep it in a secret code for AAM regulars.

        1. Courageous cat*

          I would agree, I never really thought much of it but I think a sans-serif is a little more modern/in line with the site theme.

      2. That would be a good band name*

        I’ll throw in that while I have no issue with the font, the bright white hurts my eyes if I spend too much time on the site. I’m not suggesting you go crazy on the color. I’m not really sure what I’m suggesting. Maybe just less random surfing on my part.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I agree that the font is OK with me, but the bright white does hurt my eyes too sometimes. Maybe a dark blue or brown background?

      3. NextStop*

        I like this font. It looks professional, which I feel is appropriate for this blog’s theme.

      4. Jennifer Thneed*

        I think they’re all joking, but: I like this font just fine. I prefer serif fonts overall, now that we have decent monitors that can make teensy weensy beensy dots. Back in the day of green text on a black background, we were just lucky we could read the stuff at all. When all the dots are the size of your thumbnail, sans serif is much preferred.

        (Okay, I’m not actually that old. I never worked at one of those BUT I worked alongside coders who used them Back In The Day.)

  15. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Because anonymity tends to be seen as cowardly (even though a person might have good reasons for being reticent), I long ago decided to be upfront or keep my mouth shut. Nothing in between.

    Ultimately easier that way and more likely to be of use.

  16. Tangerina*

    Dang this thread is full of negativity. Anonymous notes get some of you incredibly riled up.

    Anonymous note leaving is not a sin. It’s what works for some people (receiver and giver). To act like it’s 100% a horrible thing to do is narrow minded.

    1. Abe Froman*

      Did you read the article? Would it help if someone said they are terrible 99% of the time instead of 100%? Because the vast majority of things people want to leave an anonymous note for should either be handled face to face or ignored. You can of course find extreme examples where they are okay, but it should not be a common tactic.

      1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

        Ehhhh… I’d say they’re a terrible idea more like 80-90% of the time, then there’s the 1% where an anonymous note is the clear best option, then there’s a minority middle ground (9%-19%) where due to REASONS the feedback giver both needs to provide this feedback and is faced with two objectively bad options and leaving the anonymous note is the equal or slightly better of two bad options.

        Though I will admit – I work in a field where anonymous whistle blower options are legally mandated (and completely necessary in my opinion), and part of my job is dealing with the anonymous complaints that come in.

        1. Abe Froman*

          I don’t think anonymous whistle blowing fits in the context of what Allison is taking about. There are definitely places where that is appropriate or needed. But for social interaction or job performance issues, I stick by the 99% figure.

            1. Anonathon26point2*

              But aside from scale or severity, how are whistleblowing and anonymous notes materially different? And if the answer IS “scale and severity,” then why should a *more* important topic be a *more* appropriate scenario for an anonymous note, than a *less* important topic? If you acknowledge the importance of whistleblowing protections, then necessarily you recognize people do not behave strictly rationally when faced with criticism, and that retribution is a thing, and that people should have an avenue to submit workplace grievances without fearing it be traced back to them.

              I suppose I just don’t see any logical consistency between, “anonymous notes are unprofessional and ineffective” and “protections must be in place to preserve the anonymity of people reporting workplace malfeasance, because that anonymity is essential to the ability to report workplace malfeasance”.

          1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

            I still think there’s a minority but not infinitesimal window of situations where an anonymous notes might be the best (or equal) of two bad options – outside of an whistle blower situation.

            I only brought up the anonymous whistle blower aspect because it does give me a pretty specific/unique view onto the value and purpose of anonymous reporting that very few others have. Beyond that – the whistleblowing complaints that I deal with, quite often stem from or are related back to job performance issues (ball park – about 50%), so I don’t think there’s necessarily a bright dividing line in many situations.

        2. Lindsay J*

          In the companies where I worked, the anonymous safety reporting offered (and strongly urged people to use) a way for the people receiving the report to reach out for further information if possible, because initial reports generally don’t contain enough information to be actionable.

          Generally it was a code you could make up, that they could make a post referencing and asking you to contact them with further information if needed.

          To me that improves on on the anonymous situation because there is the opportunity for follow up if needed.

          And generally with whistleblowing in my field, the situation is something that needs to be solved because otherwise people’s health and safety is at risk. There’s a huge difference between “So and so was drunk while working on an airplane,” and “Jane keeps on microwaving left-over salmon.” In the first case, people’s feelings take a backseat to getting the problem fixed so people don’t die. Nobody is going to die if Jane stinks up the break room.

    2. Lissa*

      I sorta get where you’re coming from but the problem is unless you somehow know that your coworker would prefer to receive the information in an anonymous note, you’re taking a chance that is more than likely going to hurt them more than help them.

      1. Anonym*


        This thread indicates pretty clearly that most people would be hurt, upset, concerned or otherwise put off by an anonymous note, and that makes it a very bad choice in most situations.

    3. ballpitwitch*

      I agree with you – people seem to feel very strongly about this! There is a lot of negativity in this thread compared to most of the conversations. I guess I just want to say congratulations to all these people who apparently work in pleasant, functional offices where adults act like adults, haha. I have yet to find one!

    4. LCL*

      One of the reasons people hate anonymous notes is because there is no give and take as in a normal conversation, they feel like an assault. We need the interaction of a conversation to best resolve problems, generally.
      Another reason people hate them is because they allow one person to take a slap at somebody, and the person being slapped has no way of knowing if the issue being raised is really an issue. Or if the note leaver is being a jerk for their own reasons. It is not by accident that these notes are often about something that a person may be sensitive about.

      Anonymous notes are basically bully tactics. Not all the time. But just go back and read the one thread Alison cited about the person who couldn’t bring their dog in because it was too big. To a dog friendly office. That whole situation and some of the utterly stupid Slate comments about it fill me with rage all over again. To such an extent I want to pay an investigator to find the complainer, then confront the complainer and scream at them for 20 minutes and throw a the contents of a drink (not the glass itself) in their face.

      1. Jennifer*

        Someone tried to get me fired by writing an anonymous note. I got in trouble anyway (if not fired) for it. So…yeah.

    5. Observer*

      That’s actually not true. They don’t work- not for the sender, and not for the receiver. Assuming that the sender is actually a decent person, of course.

      The sender GETS the illusion of doing something without negative repercussions. But the reality is that, aside from embarrassing and / or humiliating someone, it doesn’t accomplish anything. It really doesn’t – either the person is more reasonable than you gave them credit for or they won’t listen anyway.

      The recipient has gotten a note that is not actionable because it’s anonymous. So, either you act as it every random comment that comes your way is actually factual and exhaust yourself to satisfy anyone and everyone no matter what reality is, or you ignore all notes.

  17. bones*

    is there a not-snobby way to tell a coworker “it’s thank you in ADVANCE, not thank you in advanced”?

    1. Jenn*

      I wish. I would tell a co-worker that it is most certainly not a “mute point” (typed and said that way).

      1. Abe Froman*

        I could care less about the lion’s share of misused idioms and words, but supposably, that’s not copacetic.

      2. That would be a good band name*

        Do you prefer moo point? Like a cow’s opinion, it doesn’t matter. It’s moo.

        (joking, in case that’s not clear)

  18. Adaline B.*

    And even if the intentions are good, it’s so easy to misunderstand!

    One time at OldJob I came into work and there was a little travel size deodorant on my desk. I was super worried and started asking around and it turned out everyone in the department had one!

    The person who put them on our desks had gotten a bulk supply from somewhere and wanted to share. She was mortified that she hadn’t thought that through and freaked everyone out but we had a laugh about it.

    I think about that whenever I read about people leaving anonymous notes. It makes me smile….and put my name on notes. :)

  19. Hiring Mgr*

    I think much of this has to do with the rise of the milennial workforce and the “Everyone gets a trophy” generation. They’ve been pampered and coddled all their lives, and with Facebook, Instagram etc. are used to “hiding” behind a device. They haven’t had much experience sorting out these kind of face to face interactions which can sometimes be uncomfortabe, so it’s no surprise that they struggle in this area. /s

    1. Abe Froman*

      I disagree so hard on this. I don’t think it’s a generational issue at all. Conflict avoidance is common among all generations in the US. Many of us had experiences of older colleagues pulling this kind of stuff instead of handling it directly. In fact, as an Xer who worked with millennials for many years, my experience has been that older colleagues were much less direct and more likely to avoid conflict/leave anonymous feedback/talk behind my back.

      1. Dankar*

        Hiring Mgr is known for their sarcastic, not at all serious replies. Thus the “/s” at the end of the post.

        1. This is an anonymous note*

          I think his user name should be “Hiring Mrg /SARCASTIC” since all of his posts are

      2. Lissa*

        The /s at the end of HM’s comment indicates that they were joking, and taking a jab at the tendency to blame everything on millenials. :) /s stands for sarcasm in this context.

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are milennials–but that’s about as close as I care to let them come.

      4. Abe Froman*

        Hey Abe, the /s at the end of the post indicates sarcasm. You must have missed it. But your response fits with an earlier post, so you could move it up there, but that seems like a lot of work. Anyway, read more carefully next time.

        Your good friend,

    2. Amelia*

      People have been talking about the “everybody gets a trophy” thing since the 1970s. Some of those “kids” are close to 50.

      And in terms of Facebook and Instagram, the issue is generally too much transparency, tracking and that everyone has a dossier on them a mile wide – pretty much the opposite of anonymity.

    3. bunniferous*

      I am fifty nine years old and I must tell you this is not a millenial workforce problem. This was a problem when Moses was kicking the slats in the basket. (I am also a Southerner and I think it might be worse here in the South but I am open to other perspectives on that.)

  20. Lissa*

    Part of me sort of gets it. I mean, I agree with Alison and am anti anonymous notes, but there are times where I have been on both sides of wishing I could beam knowledge into someone’s head, or have it beamed into mine if I am doing something annoying/off putting, without actually having to have the conversation. I’m sure people will disagree with me on this but I do think there are situations where someone might genuinely believe the person would rather know about Issue without having to have the awkward conversation about it.

    Though I highly doubt there are people out there who actually want the anonymous note, and were like “yay, I now know that my perfume is bothering someone, so I will stop wearing it but we never had to have the discussion”…. in reality the person will just be constantly wondering who wrote the note and feeling more self conscious. But oh man there are so times where I wished I could just magically know if I’m doing something to annoy someone or imagining weirdness…

  21. Juli G.*

    So many anonymous complaints to HR. “I’m being discriminated against by my manager” is sadly common. Who are you? Who is your manager? What’s the behavior? I can’t take any action on that. Same with complaints about “everybody”. I might poke on 2-3 people in the identified group to see if they corroborate anything but I can’t talk to 60 people about your vague report of “inappropriate behavior”. What does that mean – sexual? Theft? Profanity? I’ve people describe all of those and more as inappropriate.

    I just take my job very seriously and I hate when I can’t dig in on something because then the behavior continues and they think we don’t care but I do!

    So if you must report anonymously, provide as much detail as you can!

    1. New handle TBD*

      Yes! That is part of my job, too, and getting a complaint like that is so frustrating! There is nothing I can do with that

  22. Let's Talk About Splett*

    Alison touched on how the note receiver might latch on to whom the author is (understandably) but I have actually seen it go down where they guessed the wrong person and the work relationship suffered. So it can have unintended consequences.

    1. Jenn*

      I have seen this! A co-worker of mine, Sam, was a LOUD talker on the phone. Talked so loud. I don’t mind dealing with a noisy office but sometimes even for me it was a little loud. My co-worker Katie complained about it with an anonymous note. He quieted down but was really upset about it. Years later, another co-worker, Brad, announced he was quitting. Sam told me “Thank God, Brad’s leaving. I’m pretty sure he’s the one who left that note!” and apparently he’d been fuming at him for years. Nope, it was Katie. I knew only because they’d told me.

      Also, someone got my boss in trouble for something he wrote on social media and apparently he thought it was ME for about a year until finally the person who had complained quit and he found out it was her. But I’m sure that affected our work relationship.

      1. Let's Talk About Splett*

        Your second example happened at my former workplace. Coworker complained about the company on Facebook, company found out and wrote her up. This was a small-ish media company and most of us were friends with each other on Facebook. She was sure it was a certain coworker who had been laid off and was hoping to come back – when just about anyone there could have taken a screenshot & sent it to HR.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I had this happen to me. We had a bad lead and I had confronted her about some EEOC level things she had done.
      Two others in my group filed an anonymous complaint against her. It was investigated and found to be true. The lead was removed.
      Management blamed me. I didn’t know about the complaint until two years after the fact.
      I was marked down on my performance review. The lead physically threw things at me and screamed.

      Thanks anonymous people.

      1. Anthro*

        Sound like your anonymous coworkers were right, then, to want to remain anonymous – since management was ready to blame whoever identified the problem. Why not direct your ire at them (management) instead of your anonymous coworkers?

        I get it, in a perfect world, we would all be able to openly discuss issues like this. I don’t like anonymous letters, as they’re a sign that there is poor management (at whatever level). But maybe those people couldn’t afford to have their jobs threatened. If you were marked down on your performance review because of the suspicion you were the complainer, how would an identified complainer have been put on a PIP or fired? Something you might want to consider.

    3. Susan Sto Helit*

      This isn’t work, but in a gaming community I’m a part of there’s this one guy who’s an utter asshole. Both in-game, and in public – shouting, swearing, threats etc.

      The game allows you to report players for poor behaviour, and it then sends them an email about it – obviously, they won’t tell you who’s reported you, just what you’ve been reported for. So apparently people have started reporting him…a lot of it legitimate things he’s done (and absolutely deserves reporting for), but they’re also reporting him for things he HASN’T done.

      So guess what, now he’s behaving even worse. Because he doesn’t know who’s doing this and how to target his anger, so now it’s being spread around indiscriminately to absolutely everyone. By dicking about with false anonymous reports all they’ve done is cement his victim status in his own mind, and convince him that absolutely everyone is out to get him, and it’s reasonable for him to retaliate. It is no way to solve a problem.

  23. LQ*

    I wonder if some of this is about direct vs indirect communication styles, and I know the assumption with this blog is that direct is always better than indirect. But within entirely indirect communication cultures things absolutely still get done, it’s often in the space between them, when some are direct and some are indirect, when the organizational culture and the culture the organization is predominantly in and the people are all different that it seems to get messy.

    My boss is very indirect. (Which I directly said to him once, it is still a thing (in a good way).) I communicate with him pretty well. But I think he struggles to get other people to understand and when they don’t he does not care to or have an interest in or perhaps cannot shift to a direct method. But on the other hand this has served him well and his area is one of the best in the country. Mostly metaphors and stories, mostly indirect driving toward goals. As long as the people around him work well with that it’s fine and it is absolutely our dominant organizational culture. Sometimes it seems like gossip but it is addressing the problem in an indirect communication style.

    (And I’ll have to admit I’m kind of uncomfortable with being as indirect as most people would prefer but I’m trying to figure out the right balance.)

    Is the standard always direct communication and all cultures that are indirect are wrong and bad and doomed to fail?

    1. LQ*

      (All that said, notes are the worst kind of indirect in my opinion, indirect that is a story, or through someone else has ownership and conversation.)

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Indirect pretty much only works if everyone comes from the same culture and shares the same norms and values.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        And even then, I can’t think of cultures that value indirect communication AND value the anonymous note. Anonymous notes are direct communication, but contextless direct communication. Indirect communication is steeped in context.

        1. LQ*

          This is a really good point. I like the context vs contextless. You’re absolutely right. And around here we are not fans of the anon note for those same reasons. It feels too blunt but without any context or way to understand or work with it. It’s sort of the worst of all worlds in that way.

    3. Observer*

      No, this is not about “direct” vs “indirect”. Even in indirect communications, you need to give people enough information to evaluate what you are telling them. Going anonymous makes that impossible.

  24. Nacho*

    You know what’s even more awkward than an anonymous note? Anonymously telling your boss and having him deal with it. Apparently somebody told my boss I smell bad, so that was the first piece of feedback he gave me during our last one on one.

    1. mediumofballpoint*

      That sucks, and I’m sorry. That must have been a tough conversation.

      This is a concern that comes up often in my line of work and if you don’t mind me picking your brain, I’m curious as to how someone could’ve said that more directly and with the least amount of offense possible. We’re always trying to find a better way to handle it.

        1. jolene*

          Would you rather have them tell you to your face that you smelt bad? Would you have been entirely okay with hearing that, listened, and promised to fix it ASAP? Are you so approachable that no one would be at all concerned about you reacting badly to such a personal comment?

          If so, your complaint is entirely legitimate and the complainer (or complainers) is a coward for not handling this directly.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I’ve often seen the advice to give difficult information in an email, so people have a chance to react in private. But not an anonymous email. Context matters, in this case whether the complaint is from someone you find reliable and trustworthy passing on something they thought you should know, or is a new spin from the woman who complained about her coworker’s aura.

          2. Optimistic Prime*

            But that’s kind of the point of this whole post. The goal of the teller is not to completely remove any awkwardness from the conversation; the point is for the teller to acknowledge that sometimes, close social interaction between people requires awkwardness. It’s not really incumbent upon the recipient of the information to be “entirely okay” with the message. Let’s face it, nobody is going to like being told that they smell, or that their dog is frightening, or that they are speaking way too loudly and disrupting work for 14 of their coworkers. But the prospect of some momentary awkwardness and discomfort shouldn’t be enough to frighten people off from having these conversations – much less motivating them to send an anonymous note about them (which is not actionable, and often results in nothing).

  25. Tet3*

    Many years ago, I left an anonymous note pointing out the difference between “in lieu of” and “in light of” for someone who routinely used the former for the latter (I’ve never encountered the opposite error…). They were senior to me, it was a religious org and they are clergy while I’m not even an adherent to denomination in question — I had those among other bogus rationalizations for taking that route.

    I am still occasionally wracked with guilt over this, especially since, after several years away, this person now has a pulpit in my area and I occasionally see them. And yet it feels so silly to even bring it up at this point. All of which is to say – don’t leave anonymous notes, because the unkindness of it may haunt you for a long time.

  26. Engineer Girl*

    I’m seeing a common thread from the pro-anonymous folks
    – expectations of retaliation even where there is no history of it
    – Black and White thinking – a belief that an anonymous note is the only other viable solution (rarely the case)
    – Black and White thinking – a belief that the only alternative is to get fired.
    – a false expectation that it will have a high success rate
    – faux victim hood – a belief that they have no other options.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      . . . unless there is a history of retaliation; nothing else has worked, either; it’s happened to coworkers; you’re desperate and willing to try it, anyway; maybe they don’t. Surely you can’t know the conditions of everyone’s workplace.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        What I meant to say is this: Do you actually believe that an anonymous note will fix this?

    2. whistle*

      I agree and see another common thread – the idea that “something must be done” even if that something (anonymous note) is highly unlikely to lead to the desired outcome and may even work in direct opposition to what the letter writer wants.

      1. LCL*

        Another common thread, which we are getting near but haven’t explicitly stated, is that these tend to happen more where there is a power vacuum and employees need a bit more supervision. The note leaver believes, rightly or wrongly, that this is the only way to solve problems and that management won’t make any attempt. Sometimes management shouldn’t make any attempt at solving trifling things, other than telling the complainer to MYOB. But if you as a manager are brought an MYOB problem, you need to make that very clear to the complainer, and make it clear they are to drop it.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Yes. It makes the assumption that nothing will change if brought out in the open. Which then begs the question: if that is the case then why would an anonymous note fix it?

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This seems pretty oppositional of you. Is it not possible to disagree with people without assuming that their entire worldview is false and they’re lying about the circumstances they describe?

      1. Engineer Girl*

        The circumstances could indeed be as they described. The fallacy is believing an anonymous note actually fixes things in these circumstances.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        I’m also seeing another thing. The pro-anonymous people are discounting the numerous posts by people saying how confusing/hurtful/harmful anonymous notes are. Isn’t that assuming someone’s worldview is false?

        I keep seeing the thread “yes but….”

    4. Jennifer*

      I’m not really in favor of the notes (see above for why), but I can see why someone might if there actually is a problem, because it’s not a question of a painful 5 minute conversation so much as it is having to deal with the person being angry with you thereafter. Openly.

      However, if I have a problem with someone, I just choke it down. If it’s that bad, it’s not worth the arguments and hell that will come from speaking up. Also I wish to god people would stop bringing up the slightest of things about me all day long.

    5. Delphine*

      I don’t think anonymous notes have a place in the workplace, and I still think that many people who fear retaliation might use them, and that there are people who truly think they don’t have any other options. It’s not difficult to exercise a little empathy. Whether it works or not, there are obviously understandable reasons people opt for anonymity.

    6. adullpoint*

      And from the anti-anonymous note:

      – Black and White thinking – “an anonymous note can never possibly work”
      – Filtering – *only* acknowledging the potential fallout of writing an anonymous note while flat-out ignoring the potential effectiveness (see also: disqualifying the positive – denying or dismissing the observed efficacy of the strategy on the basis that it does not confirm pre-existing biases about writing anonymous notes)
      – Jumping to conclusions – presuming to know all of the context behind why an individual would choose to leave a note vs. facing an offender directly
      – Fallacy of fairness – the presumption that people will always behave rationally and justly when confronted with reasonable criticism, therefore it is always safe and wise to elect direct confrontation
      – “Shoulds” – self-explanatory
      – Fallacy of change – we can pester those who prefer indirect confrontation into behaving the way we want them to behave

      And, immediately here:

      – Always being right

      I’d also like to take a moment to remind us all that we are leaving pseudonymous comments – effectively anonymous – on a web forum, indirectly criticizing the people who write anonymous notes (as a broad and general category), rather than confronting the issue directly. ;)

      I’ve changed my own name three times in this thread so far. (I could have chosen “Engineer Girl” as my own handle if I wanted to make a point, but I thought that was crossing a line.)

    7. whereamiagain*

      And as a follow-up to my previous comment: there is tremendous selection bias in these comments. The initial tone of a post (and the first comments) dictates the conversation. People don’t want to appear combative or contrarian, or disagree with an expert (Allison) *in her own house, at that*. Necessarily this creates an environment where people who had *positive* experiences with anonymous notes – whether they are the minority or majority – are discouraged from participating.

      I lived in Japan which has strict rules about division of refuse when it comes to garbage and recycling. It’s not uncommon for neighbors to peer through your trash, especially if you are visibly foreign. My roommate mixed up the “burnable” and “non-burnable” bins after being away for a week, and she took the trash out. The next day we had a note in our mailbox, “please carefully sort the trash.” Of course I stewed over it and thought, what busybody did this? But I took extra care to make sure we didn’t mix up the categories again, with new LARGE and CLEAR labels on the bins, and even gentle reminders to my roommate. If the neighbor had confronted me directly – which admittedly is not a very Japanese thing to do – I would’ve been just as defensive as I had been about the note – but I would not have had the luxury of privacy and time to cool, and maybe would’ve responded with hostility (and told my neighbor to mind their business). Which would’ve raised tensions between neighbors, and helped nobody.

      There. Now you have a counter-example to break up the monotony of this thread.

  27. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I agree that a lot of the time, it’s just better to go face-to-face, for all the reasons that have been enumerated above.

    But on the other hand, I have definitely seen anonymous discussion work well when resolving certain issues, both at work and in volunteer/hobby groups I’m a part of.

  28. Student*

    I’ve never gotten an anonymous note. Ever.

    I’ve gotten feedback from my managers on complaints where the complainer is both anonymous to me and one of my co-workers. The complainer is not anonymous to my manager. That is super-frustrating. It makes it very hard to fight back on unjustified complaints with hard facts – or to accept it as serious feedback that I need to change my practices.

    I don’t understand when it’s complaints about specific deliverables, and the project itself won’t talk to me directly about problems with the deliverables. I’m 95% sure it’s a project that gave me a completely irrational deadline, that I clearly communicated to them was not something I could meet. But I can’t make that argument very easily when a manager comes to me and said, “A project said you missed a deadline a couple months ago! But I can’t tell you which project said that, or any related details!”

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Yes. You need to push back on the manager for that one. Ask the manager why he believes this if the project person is refusing to provide the details. Ask him how he knows the complainer is right.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Hah…. I had a boss that would provide this kind of feedback. It was always phrased as “Some people are saying…” What he never really figured out is that we worked in a really really small office and the things he was was talking about were things that he noticed/observed/whatever* but he was such a weasel he would never come out and say it was him. After awhile I did start pushing back just to see him squirm, then I’d start naming people off… “Hmm, can’t be Fergus, because we spoke about that last week.. And couldn’t be Jane, because she was in the loop on that problem… maybe Wakeen?? but he’s been on PTO so I’m not sure that it was him”

        *Things like I wasn’t friendly because I didn’t talk about personal things… he was the only one I didn’t talk about my personal life with the rest of the office got the movie/boring weekend plans/high level wedding planning chats. Or he would change his mind on something and not tell anyone and then I would get the feedback that I did something wrong or was going in the wrong direction.

  29. Quiltrrrr*

    I received the anonymous note my second week at my new job. I told the folks directly next to me that I can be a mite loud on the phone due to hearing issues. No problem with anyone, and found out that one of my ‘neighbors’ has hearing problems too.

    Non-managers are in cubes lined up in a row, and directly across a 5 foot hall are the mangers’ offices (windows! doors!). Someone complained that I was too loud on the phone (and it had to have been a work call…I don’t take too many personal calls at work…everyone knows to text me instead), and my manager relayed it to me, making it all into my fault, even though he KNEW I have hearing issues.

    I didn’t find out for several weeks who complained, and that’s only when I thought it might have been HIS boss. Come to find out the manager who talks on his 2-way radio in his office with the door open, who talks on his phone using speaker, again with the door open, and who actually played a video of an operating table saw (again, with the door open), complained. He did get a ‘look’ from me after the video, though.

    It set me on eggshells for a few weeks, and it really negatively colored my opinion of my new workplace. I’m no novice to working in a professional office, but this was beyond ridiculous.

  30. Ron Dobson*

    The internet has given rise to this. People would rather deal with people similarly to how they do online, than in person.

    Less productive, too.

    1. Optimistic Prime*

      Passive-aggressive notes did not begin with the Internet. People have been non-confrontational since long before the advent of online communication.

  31. Jessica*

    Alison, I really appreciate this column. People who haven’t experienced it don’t realize how much an anonymous letter can poison and corrode ALL your relationships. You’re looking at everyone you know, thinking. “Was it you?” It’s so trust-destroying. You want to talk to someone about it but you can’t, because what if the person you pick to confide in is the note-writer? Reviewing all your relationships to figure out if there’s anyone at all you can be absolutely confident couldn’t have done it is a really sad feeling.

  32. sleeklydestination*

    I wonder if the difference between those who prefer anonymous notes over direct conversations relates to Ask vs. Guess culture. I would think that those who are more Ask would have less of an issue discussing a problem directly and it might be that those who are more Guess are more hesitant to be direct after their hints have not been taken about the issue.

Comments are closed.