I’m being thanked way too much, I get mis-gendered on the phone, and more

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

1. I’m being thanked way too much

I work an admin job for a department that requires a lot of specialization for non-admin employees; it’s not necessarily uncommon for my coworkers to be in situations that could become dangerous. I think I’m decent at my job and I’m definitely efficient, but I don’t feel like anything I do is all that special.

I know there are much worse problems to have, but when I complete relatively minor tasks for my coworkers, many of them go way over the top with effusive praise to the point that it sometimes feels infantilizing. I obviously don’t mind the occasional “this looks great, thanks” or “thanks for getting that taken care of,” but long rambling thank-you’s that don’t fit into a single sentence really get my hackles up. I know that objectively their work is at a higher level than mine, I don’t need to be thanked “for everything that [I] do” and told that my work is “soooooo important;” it makes me feel coddled, or makes me think that they think I’m fragile and/or insecure. I have tried casually and cordially responding in the moment with something along the lines of “That’s really not necessary, it’s part of my job,” but it persists. Is this just my problem to get over, or is there something I can say or do that would encourage them to tone it down?

Do you see them doing it to non-admin staff too? If so, it’s just the culture of this workplace. But if it seems to be targeted to you because you’re an admin, I suspect you’re seeing people over-correcting for the idea that admins aren’t sufficiently appreciated … but you’re right than when it’s done to this extreme (especially with the “soooooo important” comments), it will start to feel condescending. (And before anyone questions why you’d object to people expressing gratitude, that’s the answer. When it comes across as patronizing, it’s a problem.)

The other possibility is that you replaced someone incompetent, and your colleagues are genuinely overwhelmed with pleasure and gratitude at the contrast of your work with hers.

Either way, you can try a no-nonsense “Truly, this is just part of the job” or “Oh my goodness, save the effusive thanks for a time I really deserve it!” Or the next time someone is really over the top in a particularly patronizing way, you could cut them off and say, “Please believe me when I tell you that all this is really not necessary. A simple ‘thank-you’ is fine.”

And if there’s someone you have particularly good rapport with, especially if that person is your boss, you could tell them how this is coming across: “It’s not that I don’t appreciate being thanked — of course I do — but the way it’s playing out, especially since no one else seems to be on the receiving end of it, makes me feel like I’m being talked down to. I’d like to see myself as a peer, not ‘the help.’”

But beyond that, there may not be a ton you can do here.

2. Is there a diplomatic way to correct people when I’m mis-gendered over the phone?

I recently moved from a northern state to a southern state to work as a doctor in a hospital setting. I frequently call (and rarely email) patients, their families, and other hospital staff. As a result of the sir/ma’am culture here, I have realized that my phone voice must be much higher than I previously thought. I’m a cis-gender man who presents as male and would obviously be recognized that way in person … but I’m mistaken for a woman on nearly every phone call I make. While I’m not offended, it is a little annoying (and slightly alarming that I’ve never known this about myself!).

Is there a way to diplomatically correct people in the moment here? I feel it’s complicated by the fact that people taking my calls are often responding deferentially, as patients often do for physicians here, and it almost feels pedantic or condescending to respond to deference with “thanks, but you were respectful to me in the wrong way.” Many times, the calls are one-offs such as a patient’s family member who I will never speak to again. Other times it’s a hospital staff person I may or may not communicate with again in the future, given shift times and high turnover. So I also wonder, is it worth the awkward hemming and hawing I know some people are likely to respond with when being corrected? Or should I just suck it up and accept that I’m going to be mistaken for a woman?

I think it depends on how much you care about correcting their mistaken impression! If you’re bothered by it, I’d go with a quick and cheerful “Oh, I’m a sir!” If you want to help them save face — because most people will indeed be mortified — you can laugh and say, “Don’t worry, I get that a lot!” But it’s also okay to decide that you don’t really care if someone you’re never going to talk to again mistakes your gender, and in that case you could simply develop selective deafness (or turn it into your own private drinking game or so forth).

3. I interviewed for a job that didn’t match the job posting — and other things seemed off

I had a first interview for a job last week and am a little perplexed. 1) There was no phone screen and the first interview included all the higher-ups (it is a small organization), 2) the different interviewers seemed to be on somewhat different pages about the job requirements, and 3) the job duties described were VERY different from what was listed in the announcement. Now I’ve heard that they’re checking my references. I’m confused! I was under the impression reference checks were for the end of an interview process and I’ve only had one interview.

If they do come back to me about the job, how can I ask for greater detail/explanation about the position without sounding defensive? Frankly, the duties they described are not things I’m interested in AT ALL (and I told them that I don’t have much experience with the specific responsibilities they highlighted), but I am somewhat desperate.

Some places do hire after a single interview, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the interview you had is the entire process.

But everything else here is a danger sign. Including all the higher-ups in a first-round interview says they’re not good at thinking about and effectively using people’s time. The interviewers being on different pages about the role tells you there’s serious communication problems, and probably a lack of clarity about what this person needs to achieve. Job duties being dramatically different from what was in the job posting (and with no acknowledgement to you of that) tells you, especially when taken with the rest of this, that they’re a disorganized mess. Now throw in that they’re a small organization (which are often breeding grounds for dysfunction), and this is not a job you want.

I know you said you’re desperate, so it might be that you need to take the job regardless, but if you do have other options, I’d be very, very wary of this one. If you have no choice but to take it, go in with your eyes wide open about what you’re likely getting into. (And frankly, being in a dysfunctional organization isn’t the worst thing that can befall you, especially if you’re desperate — plenty of people have dysfunctional jobs. The key is just not to let it warp your norms, and maybe to continue searching for something better. That said, unless you’re in truly dire straits, I wouldn’t take a job you think you’ll be bad at. That can actually put you in a worse position, if you get fired from it and/or it keeps you from continuing an active search for a better fit.)

But it’s totally okay to say in your next interaction, “It sounded from our last conversation like there are a few different visions for the job. Could we talk in a little more detail about exactly what this role will be responsible for and how its success will be measured?” It’s also okay to ask, “When we talked, it seemed like Jane and Bob had different perspectives on how they each saw the role. Is there more internal alignment about that now?”

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Asking a former manager to be your reference when they’re trying to hire you

I’m starting a job search and have encountered an admittedly fortunate quandary: a former boss has an opening in her company that she’s interested in having me fill. While I am interested in the role, her timeline for filling the role is a bit nebulous right now and I want to keep job hunting in the meantime. Should I be lucky enough to get to the reference check stage with another company before I get an offer from my former boss, who should I offer up as my reference? Can I ask the former boss? Given that she’s trying to poach me from my current organization, I’m confident that she would have given me a glowing recommendation otherwise. I do have other folks I can ask, but I also don’t quite know how to say that I can’t provide my former boss as a reference — it feels a bit like I’m coming up with a fake excuse if I try to explain that she can’t be my reference … but for positive reasons!

A few friends suggested that I ask the former boss for a reference anyway in hopes of both nudging forward her timeline a bit and also strengthening my negotiating power later, but that seems underhanded. What say you?

You can use your former boss even though she also hopes to hire you. (There’s a certain type of person who would downplay the reference in the hopes that no one else would hire you, but that type of person is rare. Hopefully you know that your old boss isn’t one of them.) You’re not asking her as a way of nudging her timeline; you’re asking her because she’s a logical person to give a reference. When you ask her, you can say something like, “I’m really interested in the role with you, but since it’s not a definite at this point, I’m of course talking to other companies too.” She should understand that.

{ 336 comments… read them below }

  1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

    OP #3: Just got out of a situation like that. Trust me, you do NOT want to enter into this kind of dysfunction. The lack of communication is a huge red flag as is the posting being different from what was actually discussed in the interview. Just….don’t do it. It leaves the door open for so much more dysfunction to present. And yes, as Alison said, with it being a small organization dysfunction can breed much more quickly. This kind of hot mess workplace can lead to so many other problems.

    Trust me, there are other, better jobs out there. Leave this mess to someone else.

    1. I Herd the Cats*

      If they can’t agree what your job is up front, that’s not going to get any better after you’re hired. As someone who ultimately got fired (the only time that’s happened to me) because I couldn’t please everybody and was unqualified to do about 40% of the specialized work I was given, although I took training and tried really hard, it was the most miserable 18 months of my career. It’s the waking equivalent of that anxiety dream where you’re back in school and you find out you have to take the final exam in a class you never went to on a topic you’ve never studied.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        My situation was just a little different in that one of the things I was hired to do was to get the company compliant and organized. It was a start up so, of course, was highly disorganized. However, someone who didn’t even work for the company thought she should be doing that. (Never mind she had had 1.5 years worth of opportunity and still hadn’t done squat.) I knew my duties were going to be all over the place, with a core group of responsibilities but had no idea a non-employee was going to undermine me every time the CEO left town. It was like a switch was flipped as soon as he was on the plane.

          1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

            I’m not sure what you mean. Did I let someone know about the wife undermining things? Oh I sure did, multiple times before I left. The problem is that she is the president’s wife. As long as she was out of the office, he was fine. When she came back, he would bow to her demands.

            They told me they wanted me to handle compliance. So I did. His wife was the most non-compliant person in the whole company and he was sick of being in the middle. I can’t really say much more than that since I am suing the company for wrongful termination but you can find the whole story in some of the Friday open threads (not last week’s tho).

      2. Emily K*

        I had a similar situation once at a small shop. I was hired to do 60% marketing and 40% office management. Maybe three months after I started, the boss fired the Operations Manager and instead of replacing him, she hired a bookkeeper to take over most of the financial work and then gave all the rest of his work to me. That meant I had to among other things learn on the fly how to register our org as a charitable solicitor in every state we operated in, file quarterly reports with the FEC for our PAC, and become an expert in all the compliance regulations affecting nonprofits, with absolutely no previous experience in nonprofit management, law, or compliance. I guess in my boss’s mind it was just “administrative work” and I was already doing that as office manager, so why not! My title didn’t even change to reflect that I was now doing operations work on top of office management and marketing.

        I was really good at the marketing part of my job which was originally supposed to have been the bulk of it, OK at the office management, and terrible at the operations stuff. It kept me in this perpetual state where I was too good at marketing for my job to ever really be in danger, but I was constantly feeling like I was “in trouble” for details I’d missed or gotten wrong in the operations/administrative stuff. It was the most stressful and demoralizing job I’ve ever had. The only upshot was that I did get a ton of marketing experience that I was able to leverage into the 100% marketing role of my dreams in my next job.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Every time I’ve seen a small charitable org post an “oops, we lost our charitable status” it’s been because someone in the upper levels thought handling that paperwork would be easy, or didn’t even know it had to be done when some critical employee left.

      3. Quill*

        I’m celebrating my one year anniversary of being… “resigned by force,” as it were from a pretty similar job to that. They wanted new grads, discovered that I knew exactly enough HTML to make a pretty live journal post, and decided I’d be pretty cheap.

        Got trained for nothing, couldn’t please anyone, had NO standard operating procedures (which are industry standard) until I wrote them, was expected to do things I had no experience in (international shipping of chemicals and biosamples,) perfectly the first time and was reamed out every time customs decided to inspect our items. Tried to explain to boss that customs be like that and this was always going to happen at random based on the locations we were shipping to… etc. etc.

        I also got hired two days after my interview… as did all the three people I trained who all managed to leave before I did.

        Also, me and another recent grad were definitely treated poorly over our mental health stuff… not that there’s anything I can do there legally, it was a 5 person company and neither they nor I have the type of money that goes into lawyers.

    2. Nervous Nellie*

      Seconded. Today is my last day of five years at exactly this kind of job. I am a broken, exhausted shell with medical issues caused by the stress of the chaos. People with no structure, definition or limits to their jobs become a bunch of panicked, reactive, demanding people. Herding colleagues who had the same uncertainties really did me in – so much so that I just quit without another job to go to.

      Please keep in mind that if this role’s job description is, ahem, fluid, then it’s probable that your future colleagues’ jobs would vdery likely be too. They would be unable to assist or provide any steadiness, and could even make the stress of your undefined role even worse. Mty advice – run! Don’t look back. This is the zombie apocalypse waiting to happen.

      1. loslothluin*

        I’m hoping to escape this kind of job, too. They want me to do the work of 5 people, and I’ve come very close to begging to get some help. I’ve told all three of the Big Bosses that I can’t do everything alone, but it falls on deaf ears.

        Now, my plan is to quit while we don’t have anyone to replace me, and they can sea with it.

      2. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        Yep, I came out of my nightmare with the same issues. I had left a job in 4/17 that caused significant medical issues for me (multiple hospitalizations for stress resulting in me ultimately having a heart attack–at age 49). I had recovered somewhat and accepted my last job. In the span of 3 1/2 months, it brought back all of my stress issues, including PTSD, increased blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety……just horrible. This is the end of the 3rd week I’ve been out of work and things are finally coming back to where they should be.

        There is no job that is worth destroying your health and body.

        1. Just Jess*

          I’m sorry to hear that and it is now occurring to me just how much a dysfunctional organization can affect people. Unhealthy organizations can cause mental and physical health issues.

          1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

            Oh they sure can! For me, it was a matter of cutting my losses before the job literally killed me.

        2. Quill*

          The job I had for two years before this set me back about three years in my PTSD recovery too… I wasn’t really okay until about 6 months after I left it.

          A heart attack? Yikes.

        3. Mad Baggins*

          Yikes, I’m so sorry you are/were dealing with this. I spent 1 year in a job with “fluid responsibilities” that wasn’t dysfunctional so much as a very bad fit, and almost a year later I’m still dealing with the after-effects on my physical and especially mental health. It certainly built character but I wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone.

      3. NorthernSoutherner*

        I was heading the same way at a job I’ve been at for two years now (after working for myself for over a decade). More and more kept getting dumped on me. Know what I did? Stopped trying to do it all.

        When something didn’t get done, I’d point to all the rest of it and say something along the lines of, “you need to prioritize this for me. Because I was working on X so Y fell through the cracks.” Work late, come in early to get it all done? Oh hell no. Not at my pay level.

        The 30-year-old me would have done that. Correction, the 30-year-old me DID do that. No more. To all who are overextended and overworked, doing the job of 2, 3 or more with no commensurate pay, here’s my advice — stop. You will not get fired. Ask your higher up for a list of priorities — literally, what do I work on first, next, next, and so on. Let THEM make those decisions. They simply cannot fault you for not finishing something when they themselves told you to work on something else. Oh they can try, but just pull out your handy dandy list of priorities. What can they say? My favorite response was, ‘uh…’

    3. LW 3*

      Thanks for your input! It definitely worries me that the posting was so different from what was described in the interview…I mean, I wouldn’t have applied if I knew what they were actually looking for in this job. Unfortunately, I think part of the problem is also that (in my experience) small employers sometimes expect employees to be experts at everything and don’t balk at asking you to be the web manager, marketing specialist, in-house researcher, and data analyst. I’ve worked at a MAJORLY dysfunctional workplace before, it was horrible for my career, and I’m terrified of putting myself in that same position again. However, in my area, finding work opportunities is extremely difficult, particularly without a network.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        I’m kind of in same boat as you…..I don’t have much of a network and while there are decent job opportunities in my area, it’s hard to find an exact fit. Nepotism runs rampant in this area. My situation was a bit different in that part of what I was hired for was to bring organization and compliance to the company. They had not had anyone who could/would do that. So I said sure, bring it on. And I willingly accepted anything and everything that was thrown at me. Unfortunately, someone else (who wasn’t even an employee) didn’t like that and kept screwing with it while the CEO was out of the office and he would never put his foot down. So I don’t work there, the government is bringing them into compliance and they are no closer to being organized than they were before I worked there. I learned a lot from that situation and I now know about more red flags to watch for.

        Good luck, and listen to that wee small voice. If it is screaming “Don’t do this!”…don’t do it!

      2. Massmatt*

        To me the red flag is not the small organization but the lack of communication and/or conflicting ideas about what the job duties are. As Gazebo slayer notes, if multiple bosses are telling you conflicting things then you can’t win.

        But small orgs have advantages, at least for the right kind of person. You can get lots of experience in different areas that would be impossible in a large org, and the potential for growth (both personal and professional) can be enormous. It’s not for everyone, it helps to have the feeling of “we need someone to do _____? Never done that but hell yeah, let me try!” Decisions can also be made quickly without the inertia and beaurocracy that come with larger companies.

        The warning signs are there, and from the overall tenor of your letter it seems you are getting a gut bad feeling from the place, you should probably trust your gut, but I wanted to push back a little against the “small business, OMG how awful” trend in the comments.

        1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          I agree with you. I’ve worked for some really awesome small companies. My most recent experience was my first really bad experience with a small company. Big companies can also have communication issues but they seem to have their stuff together moreso than the small companies.

        2. LW 3*

          I agree with you re: the size of the org. I’ve worked in primarily small offices—some have been truly awful while others have been the best professional experiences I’ve had. I think it really comes down to your colleagues. I’m also 100% up for trying new things and gaining experience, the parts that make me apprehensive are 1) that the job announcement is so different from what they seem to want the employee to do and 2) that the tasks that make up the bulk of the work aren’t just things they’re open to having someone learn on the job, but that they’re looking for expertise.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      Poor communication often equals contradictory sets of instructions from different people. And if you have more than one superior, and each of them has a different way they want you to do your job, and they don’t talk to each other or answer questions from you… then no matter what you do you are always, always doing it wrong. And eventually you’re likely to be unavoidably fired for “poor performance” because of this. It’s a no-win situation.

      (Why yes, I do speak from experience.)

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        I’m with you, it IS a no-win situation. My immediate bosses were able to agree on what my duties should be, but when you add in the president’s wife (who wasn’t even an employee of the company), all of a sudden everything was up in the air and my duties constantly changed. My duties included compliance and getting that mess organized and she just didn’t like that. She didn’t like that A LOT.

        There is no job in this entire world that is worth health or self-esteem problems.

        The tale of my experience at that job can be found in the Friday Open Threads over the past 5-6 weeks (not last week tho). To cut to the chase: I was fired for being a whistleblower. I went scorched earth and the awesome commentariat here at AAM bestowed this screen name upon me when hearing HOW I went scorched earth.

          1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

            LOL, thanks. I wouldn’t necessarily say awesome, I’d say it was more along the lines of severely pissed off!

  2. Emee*

    #2 – what about including your first name when you introduce yourself? “Hi, this is Dr. Mike Lastname” Of course, this would not help if your first name is gender neutral, but it could be an easy way to set the record straight from the beginning.

    1. Artemesia*

      I don’t think I have an unusually low or masculine voice but on the phone I am often taken for a man. My name is a traditional feminine name, so I agree that one way is to introduce yourself with first and last name. I just ignore it; I figure if we keep interacting then they will figure it out and if they don’t have my full name or it is just customer service or whatever, then what difference does it make.

        1. Smol Cinnamon Roll*

          Generally I’m mis-gendered on the phone, I have a slightly higher pitched voice as a male and so I get called Miss a lot. I just smile and go on with the conversation, there’s more things to worry about in life.

          Like herding cats.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I base my decision on how awkward it’s gonna be. Am I never going to talk to this person again? Then I don’t care about being misgendered. Am I going to meet them face to face and have them be awkwardly surprised when I am very obviously not presenting as the gender they were calling me? Then I correct them because that’s annoying.

            My attachment to any gender in particular is also quite low, though, so being misgendered when it’s not obviously mean-spirited doesn’t bother me. Some people do not feel that way — for a lot of people it’s very upsetting.

            1. CMart*

              This is how I approached people calling my babies the wrong gender. Is this going to be a short interaction? Who cares. Is this going to go on for a while and they’ll be embarrassed/awkward to find out they were wrong? I’d correct.

              But then you’d have situations that blurred the lines, like the people at the grocery store who would just not stop asking followup questions, so a quick “awww he’s so cute!”/”thanks!” turns into “how old is he? Is he your first? My grandson looks to be about that age, it’s a really special time. What’s his name?”/”erm, her name is Jessica and she’s 9 months…”/”oh god I’m sorry!”/”It’s okay…”/we both awkwardly back away from each other and studiously inspect the labels on the pickle selections.

          2. Thegs*

            Yep, that’s what I do too. It’s mostly caused by the low quality connection between phones, so it’s not really either of our faults. The only time I ever bothered to correct them was if they were calling back, since we had a woman with my last name in the office too. And even then it can be done in a way that prevents them from getting embarrassed, like “When your connection comes back up, just call [number] and ask for Mr. Thegs and they’ll pass you to me.” That way they now know without feeling to need to apologize, since the conversation ended gracefully.

      1. Sketchee*

        If you have a traditional and gendered name, as I do, this works pretty well. I always answer or call with “Hello mycompanyname, this is FirstName speaking”. There’s still confusion as there are several other people with my first name. But it’s one less thing to have happened.

        I still often get misgendered at the Wendy’s drive through. But they figure it out when I get to the window

    2. AnnaBananna*

      This. ‘Good afternoon, this is Doctor QUENTIN Coldwater returning your call with your test results….’ would not go amiss in this situation. Well, unless they don’t watch and/or read Lev Grossman books.

  3. Thursday Next*

    LW #2, is your first name unambiguously male (in a way that is common knowledge for your patient demographic)? If so, introducing yourself at the beginning of the call may help: “Hello, this is Dr. Edward Lastname calling about your test results.” Or answering your phone, “Dr. Edward Lastname speaking.”

    It’s a bit more complicated if you have a name used by women and men, like “Jordan,” or a name from a culture your patients may not be familiar with. A quick, “actually, it’s ‘sir,’ “ if someone calls you “ma’am” is a polite and smooth correction you can make before moving right into some sort of medical information to “paper over” any potential awkwardness and signal to the other person that you’re not offended.

    It sounds to me—forgive me if I’m off-base—that you’re wondering if it’s “worth” correcting misgendering in your situation, as you’re cis-male. I often wonder about correcting people on pronouncing my name for similar reasons to those you mention about correcting people on your gender. If it’s a short interaction, I wonder whether it’s worth hijacking the interaction toward a pronunciation correction, or I don’t want to embarrass the other person. But my name is an important part of my identity, and I think it’s okay for me to decide it warrants a correction. Similarly, gender identity is important and if you decide you want to correct someone, that’s completely your right.

    1. Cherith Ponsonby*

      I am someone who gets mispronounced and misgendered all the freaking time, and I completely agree with your last paragraph. Sometimes I feel like it’s worth it (to me) to speak up and correct people, sometimes I’d rather just let it go – the important thing is that it’s my name or gender and it’s my reaction and I get to decide that.

    2. Redux*

      On the question of being “worth it” when you’re cis: Your cis-privilege makes it all the more worth it to correct mis-gendering! If we leave it to transfolk to to do all the gender advocacy, it becomes a Trans Thing and not a Person Thing. If you can find the diplomatic, kind way that you’re looking for to correct your pronouns, you do a great service to all the folks who get misgendered, cis and trans alike, and make it easier for transfolk to ask to be correctly gendered, too.

      1. Jamey*

        I totally agree with this. I’m trans and I don’t normally correct people, not because it’s not worth it, but because I’m afraid to. If everyone could agree that correcting people is a Normal And Okay thing to do, it would make my life much better.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          I hate that you’re afraid to correct folks! If I’m ever misgendered, I will now make sure to correct them. Hopefully, it will be my little ripple effect in the big picture pond. :)

      2. SK*

        This is what I came here to write as well. Please OP, if you can, as a cis person help normalize these interactions and make them safer for us trans people so that this can be the minor correction it deserves to be.

      3. AL*

        Thanks to everyone who commented along these lines – as a cisgender woman I learned something today and will work to be a better advocate for not-misgendering people. Really appreciate the time you all took to comment and educate me/others.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          Same here, I didn’t realize this could help normalize the correction and make it less of a Thing. Thanks everyone!

      4. Atalanta0jess*

        Oooh, I had never thought of this. Thank you for saying it. I don’t get misgendered, but my kiddo does and I usually ignore. I hadn’t considered that it’s potentially an opportunity for us all to practice discussing/correcting pro-nouns.

    3. SometimesALurker*

      Agreed — if letting it roll off of you works for you, that may be your best option, but it’s 1000% okay to want people to get your gender correct, even people you’ll never talk to again.

      Honestly, there was a period in my life where I kind of assumed that people who were really firm about being gendered correctly all the time were being kind of… sexist? Like, they were making gender into a bigger deal than it is or should be, and making it like the differences between the genders are important and absolute? But the more I learn about other people’s experience of gender and not just my own, the more I understand that gender is a part of a lot of people’s identities, and so people who care a lot about whether other people get their gender right are talking about whether they are being seen for themselves (at least, a workplace version of themselves!). If having other people guess about a part of who you are on the phone and guess it wrong bothers you, it’s okay not to shrug and say, no big deal.”

      1. Decima Dewey*

        I keep thinking of Beatrice Arthur in “Maude”, and her responses to being misgendered: “This is not Mr. Findlay, it’s Mrs. Findlay. Mr. Findlay has a much higher voice.” Or “This is not Mr. Findlay, it’s Mrs. Findlay. Mr. Findlay has a mustache.”

        I have a deep voice, so I used to get sirred a lot. But I learned that a little huskiness in my telephone voice made callers hear me as a woman.

        1. Screenwriter Mom*

          That joke would be funnier if it was “This is not Mr. Findlay, it’s Mrs. Findlay. The one with the mustache.”

          I have short hair and am both very forthright and on the “sturdy” side, and occasionally get sirred IN REAL LIFE. I always correct them.

    4. smoke tree*

      I’ve got to say, I’d be glad to see the end of the “sir/ma’am” convention altogether (not that it’s particularly common where I live). It has a lot of potential for unnecessary awkwardness and brings up people’s gender and age or marital status unnecessarily. If we could get on board with a gender-neutral, universal title of respect I’d be all over that.

      1. Cedrus Libani*

        Yeah, I’m with you. For 99% of people, it’s background noise, but when it’s not…it can really suck.

        I’m a cis woman, but I’m WNBA-sized and built like a truck. I get sirred on a near-daily basis. I honestly don’t take offense, but after a few thousand repeats of “Good evening sir, what would you like?” “I’ll have the…” “Oh no, I’m so sorry ma’am!” – it gets old. Wouldn’t mind never having that conversation again.

        And it’s actively unkind to trans people. They have enough to deal with without constant feedback on how well they’re passing. This can really get in their heads – they never got a ma’am when they were presenting as male, but they keep getting sirred, so they must be doing something wrong. I semi-regularly get called in to give the “so you’re 6+ feet tall and learning how to female” talk…and wow, the relief once they realize this happens to basically every woman of a certain size, including me and my (also oversized) relatives.

      2. AnnaBananna*

        Don’t the military call women in leadership positions ‘sir’ also? We should just create a new convention. We’ll call it sir’am.

      3. Gatomon*

        Ditto! I personally try to avoid it whenever possible, but I’d be fine with turning “sir” into a universal title of respect. It seemed to work fine on BSG.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Or maybe find a different word? One that’s not already attached to maleness?

          If there is a default, it shouldn’t lean masculine because masculine is already the default everything human…including the assumption that “normal, default human” = “male” and “female” = “other.”

          We could go all radical and make the default respectful term “ma’am.”

    5. chi type*

      I get mis-gendered on the phone. My solution was to practice my standard phone-answering spiel in a higher pitch than normal. I don’t bother trying to change anything else I just practiced “Thanks for calling X. Can I help you?” until I naturally say it in a different pitch. I think people’s expectations are probably set in first few seconds so if you can just sound more “manly” saying “This is Dr. LastName” they will assign you as male off the bat.

      1. DesertRose*

        I did the same thing. I’m a cis woman with a fairly low-pitched voice, and after being called “sir” a few thousand times, I started answering the phone in a higher vocal pitch than my normal speaking pitch. (Obviously, LW2 would need to go the other direction and deliberately lower his pitch.)

        I have a feminine-coded first name, but if someone isn’t looking closely, the spelling can be mistaken for a couple of masculine-coded first names (as well as one feminine-coded first name that rides right up my spine to be called, but that’s a different story entirely!).

        I think if the letter writer just corrects them gently and with a comment like, “It’s okay, it happens a lot,” he should be fine, and it might not be a battle worth fighting in every circumstance (like with someone he’s not likely to see or speak to again), but in some situations, it may be worth his time.

  4. MrsMurphy*

    LW#1, I immediately jumped to the question of what your predecessor was like. My current boss often sings my praises to an embarrassing extent – and to the extent that the coworker sharing my office has asked me if he‘s serious or making fun of me. Sadly, no. He just IS that genuinely happy to have an assistant who doesn‘t spend the whole day texting or playing games on her phone.

    I‘ve been trying to deflect by gently cutting him off along the lines of „Thanks, but could we get back to work?“ / „Now, please save some gratitude for when I really do something extraordinary, this is just standard“ / „Thanks, but this is getting embarrassing“ / „I love my job already, you don‘t have to go out of your way.“

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I hope OP also considers another side of this. Your coworkers are in dangerous positions. Due to the danger, their job requires heavy and fixed concentration. When you do your job it allows them to focus completely on their job – no distractions! It’s wonderful when someone has your back like that.
      Little things add up in dangerous jobs. Your excellent keeps them from being distracted. They appreciate it.

      1. Annonymouse*

        I can’t agree more.

        I do an office support / admin role at a martial arts school and the owners think the world if me. Not because my job is hard but because I do it so well they know they can leave all of the day to day to me and focus on the higher end stuff.

        Anything that needs doing and it gets done faster and better than what they can do with minimal fuss for them.

        A great administrator is worth their weight in gold.

        But I agree with getting them to tone down the praise.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      “I immediately jumped to the question of what your predecessor was like.”

      I was thinking the same thing. When I came to my current company and found I had an awesome team that could be counted on to do their job and do it right, I was praising them a bit too much. It was because I came from another company where we had a lot of turnover and the people we had needed a ton of handholding and couldn’t always be trusted to do things right (unfortunately they didn’t report to me otherwise I could have replaced them, but I needed their help with a lot of things in order to do my own work). I was so thankful and happy to actually have people I could trust, that I just went a little overboard. Not gushing, but thanking people when they’re really just doing their job.

    3. Persimmons*

      +1 Previous assistant spent all day sending herself fan mail and playing Kwazy Cupcakes.

      1. OP #1*

        This is perfect, because the only person on TV I’ve seen with a job similar to mine is Gina Linetti (we’re not a police department, but it’s law enforcement adjacent).

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I wondered about OP’s predecessor, too. I once hired a recruiter to replace a truly incompetent recruiter I’d inherited. My new hire got a lot of effusive thanks and praise from her hiring partners, and she felt the same way the OP did – she was just doing her job, no big deal, right? But to her HPs, it was a very big deal. She learned to reply with a gracious, ‘Thank you’, and teased them back: ‘When I can leap tall buildings in a single bound, THEN you can thank me!’ Once they got used the new Way Of Work, her HPs calmed down.

      Even so, I agree with the OP that too much praise can be as distracting and challenging as none at all.

      1. Artemesia*

        I owe my career to this phenomenon. I was hired as a part time researcher after losing my job in a merger where whole departments were cut to avoid legal issues. My new boss’s first assignment was rather trivial and I did it and you would have thought I parted the red sea. Finally the head of the entire research institute said ‘how did you DO that. We have been trying to do that for 10 years and no one has ever been able to get it done?’ It was easy. Seriously, I just did the obvious things. (it involved getting well known researchers from across 3 institutions together to work on strategies for grant development — but apparently whomever had been tasked with this before had not managed it). It was easy and I put 24 people in a room. They were effusive for days about it. Total strangers in the hall would see me and say ‘Wow, I heard you . . .’ It was easy but the result was it cemented my reputation and eventually I had a full time career position back.

        It also cemented for me the critical importance of impression management. Doing showy things right off the bat that shouted competence formed such indelible impressions that you had a lot of rope after that. I made a careful effort when I changed positions after that to make sure I projected an image of competence and dedication in the first three months. I of course planned to be competent the whole job, but paid a lot of attention on how to project that image initially.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Doing showy things right off the bat that shouted competence formed such indelible impressions that you had a lot of rope after that.

          I did that with the wedding thank-you notes! I’m still coasting on that reputation, and we’ve been married for more than 25 years!

        2. Lindsay J*

          Totally agree with both of these things. Sometimes something reaches me that has apparently been an issue extended over months and I’m just like, “How has this gone on this long. All you need to do is [X].” And then I do [X] and people are amazed when really it’s simple stuff.

          And I try my hardest to be a superstar at a new job for the first few months. And especially, just projecting an aura of competence. That way when something hits and I need some leeway (or I feel like spending the winter wearing jeans and UGG boots and a hoodie) nobody questions it.

    5. Another Lawyer*

      +1 my job is highly specialized and we got a new admin who is great at his job and just makes my life so much easier by doing his work effectively and conscientiously. He’s a joy to work with and sometimes I probably over thank him because it may not seem like a big thing to him (he doesn’t see the whole picture of things he is working on), but it IS a big thing to me to trust his work and see it get done well.

      1. Not A Morning Person*

        Oh, for an admin who doesn’t need to have work proofed! Incorrect phone numbers, incorrect spelling of client’s names, incorrect email addresses, about 20-30% of the time. And also has been using Outlook calendar for at least 10-15 years and still doesn’t know how to interpret busy vs. free time. So, yes, it’s possible that the OP is actually competent at the job and it is a new experience for the team she supports!

        1. Artemesia*

          I have had interns whose photo copying had to be supervised and who were annoyed to have to redo material for a meeting because an inch was lopped off at the side. No professional wants to have to supervise photo copying and when you get material with the side missing or better yet two sided copies with every other page missing, it reminds you how lovely it is to have people who do mundane but important jobs well.

          1. TootsNYC*

            This reminds me of the time I trusted my husband to make a photocopy of my son’s college ID so he could apply for an adult passport, and when Son and I got to the front of the line (I had to sign the affidavit about his identity), it turned out that DH had chopped off Son’s last name completely and never noticed it (it’s a long last name!) and hadn’t photocopied the back of it.
            And we couldn’t use it.

    6. epi*

      Yeah, in addition to Alison’s advice to mention this to someone you trust, I would ask directly if they have any insight. I get how this can come off as very condescending, but it would also annoy me a lot less if I knew people were comparing me favorably to a predecessor. If the OP can’t get people to completely cut it out, having information like this might at least make it less irritating.

    7. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      This is a great observation. I am not an admin but I do back up another position and she would go around telling everyone how awesome I was. It was over the top. I mean, it was great to hear but she was really effusive and eventually it was a bit embarrassing just how often she was telling people how good/fast/whatever I was at being her back up. I eventually learned that for the past DECADE she hasn’t been able to take a vacation without daily calls and then still came back to half of the work undone because it was “too complicated”. I’ve been here about 2.5 years and it’s normal now. Just a regular amount of “thanks for covering for me” when she’s going to be out.

    8. OP #1*

      Weirdly, the office is completely split on whether or not he was good at his job. It’s roughly 50/50, and the 50% who thought he wasn’t great don’t necessarily correlate with the people I’m talking about in my question.

      I do like the wording in your “accept and deflect” responses. It’s a fine line because I don’t want to discourage gratitude (or make them think I’m ungrateful for genuine appreciation), but it also feels weird when someone goes over the top.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Eventually you will become the “new normal” and things will settle down. Sounds to me like you are doing things that either used to not get done, were done late, or done poorly completed, on time, and well. It can be a little heady for people to suddenly realize that things can actually function smoothly. Your coworkers are a bit drink on your competence. They’ll eventually recover and chill

  5. Bea*

    My extensive experience with small organizations makes it so that one interview without a phone screen and directly to the higher ups isn’t an issue. HOWEVER!! The rest is a huge issue and you want to run away from that mess. Ever changing job descriptions and them not knowing exactly what you’re hired for. It’s a setup for you to get dropped into the middle of a mess and picked apart like the Scarecrow being ripped apart by the flying monkeys. They’ll each pull you in one direction thinking it’s your job to do their individual ideas of the job!

    They may be in a hurry to hire someone, so that’s why they’re already checking your references. We have had a helluva time finding applicants, let alone even semi qualified ones for our openings. So if you seem competent and like they can mold you into whatever they’re trying to do, perhaps that’s also part of why things are steaming ahead fast. Still, the little you’ve said about them, if you’re not interested in entering into chaos, I would back away slowing and then turn and run for the hills as soon as you’re out of the line of fire.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Same here. The lack of a phone screen, first interview with higher ups and references being checked early doesn’t register on my radar at all. I worked for a very small company and we often did it like this. It was so hard to get a good pool of candidates because we were so small, so we moved pretty fast. The other stuff, though, isn’t good and I’d be very wary of that. They should at least know what they want their candidate to do if they hire them.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I *never* do a phone screen–that’s what the resume is for, in my world.

        And if I have a few really good resumes and anticipate that the decision will be tough, I might call around and ask a few questions before the interview, even.

        Those don’t seem so problematic.

        But not being able to agree on the JOB DESCRIPTION!

        Yeah, that warrants all-caps treatment. That’s frightening.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Oh, and I’ve even offered people assignments with NO interviews! OK, maybe not a full-time job, but I also once interviewed candidates once myself, conferred w/ my boss who said, “I suppose I should meet them just because, but honestly, I don’t need to.” If she’d been busier, she’d have probably NOT met with them.

          And now that I think of it–she asked me to interview for my replacement. and I think she may have hired that person without having met them herself!

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      Agree about the interview setup. At my org (smallish division of a larger company but hiring is independent of the parent co) normally there is a phone screen but they skipped mine because I was coming in through a recruiter so the initial screen was done before they got my info.
      One interview with the hiring manager(s), HR, and a VP. My meeting with the hiring managers was about an hour then 20-30 minutes with the VP and HR. I will say that the VP and one of the hiring managers were excellent interviewers – Alison would be impressed. There was a follow-up phone call that lasted about 20 minutes and then I got the offer a couple day’s later. 6 years later it is one of the best jobs I’ve had.
      OldJob had 3 interviews and it sucked balls (immediate supervisor was awesome but the rest of management was toxic but they weren’t part of the interview process).

      The other parts of your experience are the red flags…not necessarily the one interview part.

      1. Bea*

        I’ve only ever had one job that had more than one interview involved. This current one was a phone screen but that was done with the CEO. He does that then offers an in person if the screen is satisfactory. I had a phone interview, he then invited me in on Thursday, the following Monday he offered me the job. He needed someone ASAP.

        I think the perspective changes too if it’s small enough, you’re working with these executives. They’re not just your final decision makers, they’re who you report to or support. So they’re never that far away with people between you and them.

    3. Someone else*

      I almost wondered for a moment if maybe they’d mistaken the OP for someone else, and the team thought they were interviewing someone they had phone screened…for a different position. And that’d explain why the interview made the role sound completely different than the posting. That said if the committee were disagreeing about it in the interview,I’m probably wrong. And I’ve certainly had interviews with a higher-up whose “vision” for a role was something very different than the posting/hiring manager indicated. So that’s certainly a major possibility (but in cases I encountered that it turned out to be a C who was just really disconnected from the day to day of the team and was Blue Skying up the joint).

      1. Bea*

        I had one interview where after rereading my resume while talking to me, the COO realized my extensive EA background as well. So that started to turn into “AND you can do these-things-too-then!!!” The sparkle in his eyes was both awesome and unsettling because I knew how that was going to go. I had another offer come in right after that and I took it, so I’ll never know if my visions were correct. I’m a damn good #2 but at that stage in life, I just wanted to focus on setting up their books.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          I have had this experience as well. I have experience translating Elvish poetry, but I was hoping to try a bit of burgling for a change. Every burglar role interview at some point got that starry-eyed “and you can translate Elvish!” look, and I knew they would never let me do any real burgling.

      2. Formerly Arlington.*

        This actually happened to me. I went to an interview and the hiring manager started talking about the “copy editor” role, which wasn’t what I was applying to be. I actually stood up and said, “I think there is some mistake.” And there was–they had the wrong hiring manager in each room! I got the job and stayed there for four years. The company was going through massive growth and I guess HR had some things slip through the cracks!

  6. Thlayli*

    OP2 it sounds like you have to spend a lot of time talking as part of your new job. It’s possible that this is straining your vocal chords and making you sound more high pitched than you naturally are. Margaret Thatcher had a similar issue, and found that “if she drank some hot water with lemon and honey it lowered her pitch and took the strain out of her voice.”

      1. Not Australian*

        People in stressful situations often speak in a higher pitch because the vocal cords have tightened up, so relaxing them sounds like a good idea – but yes, if you over-use your voice it can become huskier. I think we’re talking about two different kinds of ‘strain’ here.

      2. WS*

        Stress tightens vocal cords and raises your voice, overuse or illness inflames and swells vocal cords and deepens it.

    1. misspiggy*

      That may well help, but she did say that to get around accusations of taking elocution classes to remove her Northern (ie working class) accent.

      1. Heynonniemouse*

        Grantham isn’t Northern, unless you’re from the ‘everything north of the Watford Gap is basically the Arctic’ school of thought. Lincolnshire is in the Midlands.

      2. Thlayli*

        According to the article I linked above she was middle class, not working class, she went to one of the poshest colleges in the UK and she developed a fake posh accent at college. Part of the vocal coaching she got was to teach her not to put on the fake posh accent (not to remove her own middle class / provincial accent which she had already removed herself). Part of the vocal coaching was also to teach her to speak in a deeper voice as she spoke in a very high voice and this was leading to her being taken less seriously.

        She was not the one who claimed her voice was strained, that quote apparently comes from an interview with her vocal coach after the fact. It’s actually a fascinating article I suggest you read it.

        Also, working class does not equal Northern – I used to live in a northern U.K. city and I can assure you there are plenty of rich people “oop noorth” too.

  7. Julia*

    I’m glad OP3 wrote in, because I just had a similarly weird interview with a company who had unclear requirements and ultimately rejected me even though during the interview, I was told I seemed like the best candidate. It was a blow to me ego (and is a huge problem because work in that region is scarce), but Alison is right.

    I hope we both find something better, OP3!

  8. Maddie*

    What’s wrong with being the “help”? It’s an important position and at times colleagues are not peers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The issue is in being talked down to in a condescending way, which people shouldn’t do to colleagues regardless of their position.

      1. andreso*

        That hits the nail on the head for OP#1. I have a similar situation, and have been told on more than one occasion, “you’re amazing!”. My reply is “nope, just competent.” There are people doing amazing things out there. Me doing my job is not one of them.

        1. annejumps*

          I occasionally will get emails like “Thanks for helping out with this.” Er, I’m not “helping out,” what I did was literally me doing my job, and thanking me for doing my job feels weird.

          1. EditorInChief*

            You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If we don’t thank you you’d complain you’re not appreciated and being treated like a lowly admin. If we do thank you, now it’s considered condescending.

            I write “thanks for helping out” because our projects are a team effort, and everyone is “helping” to take the project to its conclusion. It’s not supposed to be some ridiculous social commentary on how I see support staff or my direct reports.

            I appreciate so much that I have a business manager who submits my expenses and books travel for me and thank her when I hand her a stack of travel receipts. So according to you instead of thanking her I should just dump my stuff on her desk and walk away.

            1. Luna*

              No one is helping to take the project to its conclusion, they are all *working* to take the project to its conclusion. It’s a job, not some volunteer gig or personal favor to a friend.

              And no one is saying to not say a simple “thank you.” I say that all the time, to coworkers in all different positions, usually as a simple signoff/acknowledgement that I received their email. But giving effusive, over-the-top praise, often with patronizing language thrown in for good measure, is not the same as a simple thank you.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Wow, I think you’ve really missed the point. In fact, I addressed this explicitly in the post:

              “(And before anyone questions why you’d object to people expressing gratitude, that’s the answer. When it comes across as patronizing, it’s a problem.)”

            3. TootsNYC*

              I think that sometimes “thank for helping” implies that the person being thanked has no ownership role in the project. That they’re not really a part of the time.

              Just like some people don’t like saying that a parent is “babysitting” their own kids.

              1. TootsNYC*

                and “thanks for your work” might not have the same “you’re not really one of us” message (though it also might).

              2. Akcipitrokulo*

                Hmm. Remembering on Social Committee… the one man made a point of thanking the women on the committee for their help with events that they were in charge of organising.

                Yeah, wanted to tell him where to shove it.

          2. AnonInfinity*

            “Thanks for helping out” grinds my gears but maybe for different reasons. When I was an admin, I “helped out” someone else by literally doing their job for them and updating a database with 3 years of data. She called me her “helper.” It sounds like appropriately clerical data entry, but this was literally 80% of her job description, she received extra pay and time to manage this database, and she hadn’t been doing it for years. And I was her “helper.” I almost lost an eyeball with the side-eye I gave her.

            Then, I “helped out” with a do-or-die project that had spiraled into the depths of hell – by writing a 500-page report with all the data and narrative provided. I was so rankled when my contribution was described as “Infinity helped out with this!” Uh, no, I did not “help.” I DID IT.

            This all probably sounds ungrateful and pedantic, and that’s fine. As a qualifier, though, when I was an admin, my contributions were almost only ever recognized as “helping,” whereas if a non-admin did the same work the same way with the same results, it was a major accomplishment and a feather in their cap for advancement. In fact, non-admin coworkers used MY WORK that I DID for company recognition and nominations for awards – for years. How’s that for equity. So, yeah, “helping out” almost doesn’t exist in my work vocabulary, because someone’s probably getting screwed out of recognition for real and good work, unless we’re talking about helping each other unjam the copier or carry a box. Huge pet peeve.

            (I say “Thanks for your work on this” instead.) (God, this fires me up. I had plans for this afternoon!)

            1. Fishcakes*

              Same experience here. Don’t thank me for “helping” out with a project when I did 99% of the work for a quarter of your salary.

        2. loslothluin*

          It’s amazing to people who can’t do your job, though. What’s nothing to you may be a big deal to the other person.

        3. Bea*

          It has always meant the person before me was terrible at their job.

          Years ago an old client warmed up to me after a bit of a break in period. He confessed he was happy AF because everyone before me was an asshole. I was like “wtf…it explains everything.”

          I’ve had people super salty telling me how Bob in acrylics is an ass because he always doublechecks his pay. “Because I messed up once a couple years ago.” I just stared at them and said “payroll errors are going to do that to people…that’s how people survive.” I was just always ready to show him his timesheet to compare up his stub. He wasn’t anything more than a dude who didn’t want to be short the money he earned. So yeah, incompetence and bad attitudes can really play into this whole thing!

          1. Wendy Darling*

            My first job, everyone was over the moon that I could type 80wpm and spell things.

            The person before me moved to Word straight from a typewriter and did a carriage return at the end of every line and indented with a spacebar. Since a lot of her job involved typing up and editing very complex outlines, this made document editing a total monster. I actually knew how to use Word and typed fast so they thought I was some manner of god.

            Now it would be irritating but at the time I was very young and they rewarded me with all the iced lattes I could drink so I just lived it up.

    2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      What’s wrong is the difference between “being someone who has a position which helps” and being “The Help.”

    3. Mother of Cats*

      When I’ve heard people use the phrase “the help,” they’re generally referring to the way they imagine wealthy people 100+ years ago might’ve talked about their servants. So when someone says they don’t want to be treated like “the help,” they mean being treated as though they’re a lower class of person.

      1. Carrie*

        This. It’s not about “helping” it’s about being “The Help.” It’s a derogatory term.

      2. Mad Baggins*

        Exactly. The “people who helped” in the movie The Help were not well-paid, highly-valued humans providing household services.

    4. Mookie*

      Support roles are absolutely vital but, despite the performative ticker-tape parades like the LW describes, people on the outside looking in overlook a lot of the core functions of these roles and have little appreciation for the hard and soft skills, character, and mental acuity needed to do them exceptionally well, since a lot of it is background stuff that needs no audience and will never be presented to a client in a powerpoint. The trouble with the phrase is that it pre-supposes that the only work that matters is the end result or product — whatever The Help isn’t directly doing — and explicitly or implicitly assigning people to that category reduces individuals to a small, humble function in a way that Fetch the IT Guy, who is indispensable if not charming and compliant*, doesn’t.

      It’s a little Otherizing, is often gendered and or racialized, and smacks of an Upstairs / Downstairs mentality, where the real world is where real people go to do complicated tasks and acquire and wield power and knowledge in flashy ways and the domestic sphere is where we keep the little people that nourish us and provide us with nappies. Sure, people appreciate being fed and miss it when it’s not there, indeed, could not live without it for very long unless they fend for themselves, but there’s a head-pat quality in the compliment that One Could Not Live Without Their Help, Dahling, La-Di-Da (with the unspoken aside that “of course I could do my own washing if I wanted to, but why bother, right?!”)

      It’s pretty easy to understand the anxiety about being viewed as The Help. It’s rooted in the classism-stoked fear that while everyone needs to be useful and that it’s immoral not to be industrious, hierarchies are inevitable, lacking prestige is a moral failing, and some people can’t hack the tough, technical stuff, so they can see to the plumbing. The average person not knowing a thing about plumbing but assuming anyone could do it while the reverse is assumed to be impossible.

      *administrative staff could never get away with the kind of surly cockiness we pretend all IT guys (and they’re always guys, according to the stereotype!) evince; it doesn’t need saying why that is, of course

      1. Mookie*

        Put it another way, consigning someone to The Help is like you think they’re craft services in the movie of your life, not even worth a speaking role or a listed credit. They filled your belly with Fyre-brand cheese sandwiches while you triumphed over the head baddy in technicolor.

        There’s a whole other layer, here, of course, which is white-collar anxiety about being mistaken for performing the lowest of low-wage pink and blue collar work helps to reinforce the stigma of those roles.

    5. Luna*

      Why would an admin not be your peer? Are you their supervisor? Because if not, they are your peer. Making requests of someone does not mean they are beneath you. I often send requests to sales to do sales-y things, and finance to do finance-y things, but that doesn’t make them my “help.” So why do people think that asking an admin to do admin-y things means that that coworker is not your peer? They are just in a different role.

      1. Carrie*

        Great point! Asking IT to help me with my computer does not make them my assistant or subordinate.

    6. Someone else*

      The phrase implies someone is treating you like you’re their butler and it’s currently 1912.

    7. Who the eff is Hank?*

      I am an admin, aka “the help”. I’m very good at being an admin. Where other people get lost in the sea of small details, organization, and paperwork, I shine. My work itself is largely invisible because most people see the end product and not all the back-end work that went into making the product happen, and that doesn’t bother me. But it bothers me if people treat me as though I’m invisible or my work doesn’t matter.

        1. Kat in VA*

          +2. I’m an EA. I handle all the small, large, ditty bop, important, tedious, fun, stuff that my exec(s) don’t have the time or wherewithal to do so they can focus on THEIR job. My job is to make their job easier, and that’s what I’m really good at.

          Being thanked effusively is one thing – sometimes it feels over the top. More odd is when execs are overly apologetic for asking me to do things. Like, “I’m so, so very sorry, but can you change my flight from X time to X time? I know it’s a total hassle…” and on and on they go. I’ve had to gently remind execs that (a) it’s my job, (b) of course I’m happy to do it because see (a), and (c) if I didn’t have these things to do for them, I wouldn’t HAVE a job.

          I’m thinking that maybe my last job someone wasn’t so happy to help or do their job, which led to apologizing for basic requests that no exec should apologize for requesting!

  9. Rosa Diaz*

    OP 2 – If you don’t have a general neutral first name, it might be easy to greet the person with “Hi, this is Dr. First name Last Name speaking…” and simply say “oh, I’m actually a sir” if it happens. It can be a little bothersome (and awkward, for both parties) so my sympathies! I don’t get this over the phone, but I have encountered this via email (mostly with international clientele) and before I meet people in person.

    I work at a university tutoring/writing center for international students and I’m often misgendered before our first meeting because they are not familiar with common English names (mine’s not an uncommon female name, but not a popular name nowadays) so I get a lot of requests looking for a “Mr. Rosa Diaz”. Additionally, they often assume that an expert would be a man, not a woman and they get deer-in-the-headlights expressions when we first meet.

    1. Arjay*

      I’m a devotee of The People’s Court and Judge Judy. It fascinates me to see how often people refer to these female judges as “sir.” They are just so conditioned to use “sir” to address people in authority.

  10. Office Gumby*

    LW#2: (ma’am, er, I mean, sir)
    Have you considered voice training? Most people, when they speak, tend to speak higher in their registers, especially when they get nervous, or in a rush or under some other strain. Margaret Thatcher, when she started playing with the big dogs, took speech lessons, which included teaching her how to speak in her lower register so she didn’t sound so high and feminine.

    Maybe you should record yourself and listen to where you naturally pitch, then aim to speak toward the bottom of your register for a more masculine resonance.

    1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      Yes, it’s probably possible to learn to speak in a lower register, but why should LW#2 do that? I don’t see any indication in his letter that he would have any kind of problems with his voice, the problem is the misgendering. Changing your voice seems like a lot of effort and I don’t really see the point if your voice is working fine. There are easier ways to fix the misgendering problem.

      (BTW, my husband tends to speak lower when he’s nervous.)

    2. Susan K*

      I don’t think he would even need to speak in a lower register the whole time — maybe just get into the habit of using a low register at the beginning of the phone call to establish his gender. I am a woman with a naturally low voice, and I used to get misgendered on the phone all the time, even as a kid. I know that my voice sounds lower on the phone than in real life, so I make a concerted effort to raise the pitch of my voice at the beginning of the phone call, and then I usually stop thinking about it and gradually revert to my normal tone of voice over the course of the phone call.

      It might help to practice this by calling your own voice mail so you can play back how you sound on the phone (which might sound different than it sounds to you live). You could argue that you shouldn’t have to change how you speak, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed about having a higher-pitched voice, and that’s true, but this might be the path of least resistance if you don’t want to have to keep correcting people.

    3. JSPA*

      It can be inflection rather than pitch. I remember when first Valley Girl (for women) and then Beverly Hills 90210 (for both genders) gave the whole US the model of rising inflections that until then had (mercifully?) been geographically-restricted to a patch of Southern California. Minneapolis area has another, distinctly different version. So do some other geographical pockets (largely upper midwest and a few bits of the inland northwest) where historically, a lot of Swedes / Norwegians settled.

      If it’s a regional thing, you may just want to own it, and enjoy it. Plus, some people find it imparts a more collaborative tone to discussions–a sort of baseline prompt buried in each statement that invites the person spoken to, to speak up, if they need clarification, or don’t quite follow.

      Or you may want to very intentionally curtail it, at least on the phone “hello-may-I-speak-to” spiel, where it can be more extreme. A rising inflection in statements can be read not only as female, but as uncertain or questioning or not-authoritative, by people who’re not used to it.

      I notice that some hospitals and practices now use a robocaller (with very clear robot voice) to ask if the patient is available (by name), and when they are, to press “1” to be connected to “Dr. John Smith.” Don’t know if those services are pricy, but if not, that might help to separate that part of the call (which is questioning by its very nature, and will supercharge any rising tendencies in your tone) from the rest of the call. It will also give the person on the other end time to process the name, separate from hearing your tone.

  11. Brittle Soup*

    1 – We have an admin in my office and she is a life saver! I know the tasks she does for me are just part of the job and not especially difficult. And like your office, we have a lot of highly specialized, intelligent people walking around. But none of those smart people can get me replacement cables when I trip over my chair and irreparably break my laptop charger 20 minutes before I have to give a 4 hour training. Or a dozen other ‘little’ things that are actually magic. I’m sure you can tell genuine praise from overcompensation, but don’t underestimate the value of the normal things in a high intensity environment.

    1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      Support tasks performed efficiently do feel like magic! They never stop feeling like magic to me.

      Email: can you please have a model Z teapot sample drop shipped from Pots R Us to this customer who must receive it for a meeting tomorrow morning at 11AM?

      and then MAGIC, I receive back an emailed tracking number, and magic, the customer has what they need in time and MAGIC I didn’t have to worry that any of that was going to happen because the support person always does what she says she is going to do, correctly, or loops me in if some problem occurs.

      Total witchcraft. You will get a big thank you from me every time although maybe I can keep it under some control. :)

      1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

        FWIW, when I thank you and compliment, I like to provide context in the original task or thank you so whatever task is understood in the greater context. I think it is valuable for support people to be recognized for what their administrative task has contributed to the whole.

        So, “thank you so much. This is a big meeting where the customer is deciding on whether we get that $100k or order not, so that sample is just in time!” And then I often remember to let the support person know if we get the order. The compliment isn’t really “great tracking number” it is “way to do something just right that made these good things happen for all of us”

        1. WellRed*

          But do you do this all the time for all the tasks? Cause, if so, it feels a bit condescending.

          1. gecko*

            Considering Wakeens Teapots LTD’s other posts here, I suspect the thanks are delivered cheerfully and matter-of-factly when needed, instead of over-effusive vague praise for doing a job no one else can do when the admin orders more staples for the closet.

          2. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

            I have no idea. Probably not. I am pretty absorbed during the day. Now I am curious to pay attention.

        2. Dragoning*

          I feel like if I was an admin I would find this even more condescending, actually. Like I needed to be told like a child why my job was important and what my job accomplished. I think most admins are well aware of how important they are and why their job matters.

          1. JSPA*

            I wish!

            Seriously, in far too many companies, the bar for an admin remaining in their position is set very low. As a result, many people have suffered under bad ones.

            No expectation of even the most minimal proactive action, like ordering more paper for the printer when it starts to run low, without someone first coming to make the request) or there’s a terrible, transactional aspect (“you didn’t save me a cookie from the snack tray yesterday, so clasp your hands and say ‘pretty please with sugar on it’ if you want the order to go out today”).

            It took 5 weeks of gently begging the admin where I am now to get our access badges, so we would not have to be met at the gate, daily, to enter the premises. Someone who didn’t stop by every day to see if she was in…and didn’t beg, when they spotted her…waited for over 9 months.

            We’ve also had to bring in our own toilet paper and hand soap three times and twice, respectively, in the last 2 months, because it wasn’t ordered. And we knew to do so because…the same thing happened when we were here last year, and in 2015.

            Granted, this is extreme.

            But you only have to experience one of those situations (let alone 5 or 6) to be hugely grateful that someone gives a rat’s ass about being a true professional in a job that’s too often not treated as essential either by the person in the chair, or the person with the ability to fire and hire. And because great admins actually have all the hard-to-teach soft skills and a variety of the practical skills needed to climb corporate ladders–so people fear losing them if they’re not paid well and praised well. Coworkers can’t change your pay, so they sometimes over-praise.

              1. ket*

                I get it. JSPA is saying that some admins don’t do their job, don’t find it important, and don’t know what it accomplishes. And everyone suffers.

                Of course I can understand why you feel that being congratulated on basic competence is frustrating, Dragoning.

                1. JSPA*

                  Yep, it was prompted by, “I think most admins are well aware of how important they are and why their job matters.”

                  And partly in answer to the extrapolated corollaries, “People can and should expect any admin to behave competently and professionally.”

                  There are some roles where incompetence is dragooned out almost as a matter of course. There are also some roles where incompetence or meanness does not rebound on most of the people in the office.

                  Admin is a role that affects essentially everyone in the office, yet (in my experience) an unprofessional, petty, games-paying or sub-competent admin is not reliably replaced. So most people probably have encountered the special hell created by an admin who doesn’t give two hoots.

          2. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

            Eh I appreciate your input but that’s not what happens next. People at Wakeens are engaged in the overall goals + context helps individuals make decisions and calls on the ground without having to “ask their boss”. 100% firm believer that context helps everybody with everything (concise context that is :p)

          3. smoke tree*

            I think it’s all in the delivery. It’s pretty obvious to the receiver whether the complimenter really wants to acknowledge their contribution or is just being forced chipper in a condescending way.

            I’ve been doing some volunteer work lately and it’s been kind of amusing to be managed by a bunch of high school students who have clearly never held any position of authority before. Within the span of a few minutes they veer wildly from brusque authoritarianism to visible awkwardness with asking me to do anything whatsoever to extremely over-the-top praise for basically not setting the place on fire.

            1. Khlovia*

              Oh, man, this sounds like it could be such a fun teaching moment for you! Think about it: uncounted generations of future employees could unknowingly need to bless your forgotten name for training their bosses how to manage!

              I realize this isn’t what you volunteered to do, but it costs me nothing to volunteer you. ;-D

          4. Observer*

            Not in my experience.

            Sure, a lot of good ones do have a general sense of why their work is important, but it’s often not easy to see why this or that particular task is such a big deal, either in general or in particular, because they simply don’t have the information.

            And then you gets the admins who do have access to the information, but don’t pay attention.

      2. Luna*

        Here’s the thing though- obviously none of that is actually magic. That happens because someone (in this case the admin) takes the sample, packages it, walks/drives to a UPS store (or arranges for a UPS pickup, depending on the situation), and has it shipped.

        That’s not magic, that’s work. And it might seem like simple work, but it still takes time, and might not be as “simple” as it appears from the outside. They might need to walk 20 minutes to the nearest UPS location, or maybe they need signoff from someone else to use the company account for a pickup so they need to scramble around last minute to find the person who has signing authority, or maybe they need to fill out a million and a half finance forms to get pre-approval for the charge.

        By seeing it as just “poof! magic!” you’re erasing all the time and effort that went into making it happen. And in my experience (not saying you do this, but speaking more generally) the people who can’t/won’t see the effort these “simple” tasks take are the ones who are most likely to constantly send last-minute requests, or create bad policies that require epic amounts of paperwork and red tape to accomplish the most basic thing (because who ends up filling out all that paperwork and navigating the red tape? the admin).

        1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

          Okay so “magic” in this context does not mean “nothing”. People who see admin tasks as nothing are not the ones thanking anybody for doing anything or viewing anything as magic.

          1. Luna*

            I got that it didn’t mean nothing. But calling admin tasks “magic” is still erasing the work behind it.

            1. Beehoppy*

              Anyone who practices magic – from Harry Potter to Harry Houdini would tell you that “magic” actually takes an incredible amount of training, knowledge, and practice. I don’t see magic as not indicating hard work – it’s just a type of work that can seem baffling to those not versed in it.

              1. Luna*

                But when say, Bob makes a really big sale, do you ever hear anyone responding by going “WooHOO, MAGIC!!”

                No. They are more likely to respond by saying “Bob worked really hard and put in a lot of extra time and effort to make sure the clients were onboard and make that sale happen. Bob is a hard worker and is good at what he does.”

                That type of reaction acknowledges that the sale did not appear out of thin air, but rather a person worked hard and used his time, skill and experience to get it done. That’s completely different from just going “wow you’re so magical!!”

                1. Observer*

                  That’s actually not true. I’ve seen people use “magic” or “magical” for things other than admin. It’s more like “How do you DO that?”

            2. ket*

              Totally disagree.

              When I work with an admin who just makes things happen, it feels like magic *and* I know the work that went into it. But when that admin makes things happen, everything flows. It feels like magic, because productivity doubles.

              It is *amazing* when I don’t have to walk to the UPS office, get more printer paper, get the IT people to change that website, compile a list of funding agencies, process the finance paperwork for the travel reimbursement, schedule the classroom. I have done all those things! I can do all those things, in a slow and disjointed way! All those things mean I’m not meeting with students, teaching, proofreading, writing — the things I am supposed to do in my job. And no one else is going to do the teaching/student work/writing. No one else has that position, where I am.

              Working in an environment where you can rely on your colleagues to get stuff done, from admin to fundraising to management, is magic.

    2. Melissa D*

      Absolutely! I’m in an admin role and I work with a ton of PhD scientists who are the top tiers in their field. These people are brilliant, but brilliance alone cannot defeat the ridiculously complicated application system for our yearly mandatory training. Because I help EVERYBODY do it I know all the ins and outs of it and it’s super simple to me, but to the 50 year-old world-renowned scientist trying to get their “stupid training to open”, my skills are incredibly valuable. Sometimes I get told things like “I have no idea how you can do this!” and “Wow, you’re a genius to know how to get this training launched. Thank you so so much!” and it COULD feel condescending, but in actuality it’s really just heartfelt gratitude at helping them with something that’s complicated for them because they do it so rarely, and easy for me because I do it so regularly.

      1. JSPA*


        My spouse uses massively parallel supercomputers, but does not know how to use the command-C, command-V (copy and paste) key commands on a mac (nor equivalent on a PC). Spreadsheets are also a mystery. Filling in interactive PDF’s or web forms = misery and tearing of hair.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          I remember getting lots of thanks for telling someone alt-enter in excel makes a line break inside a cell.

          Probably with same enthusiasm I showered thanks on person who told me!

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        I can get this. I asked IT support “how do you make (REALLY annoying thing) stop.” They knew immediately and did fix that took all of 20 seconds.

        Yeah, they got effusive thanks! Because TO ME it was the highlight of my day not to have to deal with it every 10 minutes or so :)

    3. Emilia Bedelia*

      This is how I feel about our admins as well! When I need to book a last minute conference room, or have a meeting with the notoriously hard-to-get-ahold-of exec, or even just ship a document at the last minute, they are able to make it happen. I can ship my own documents and order my supplies if I wanted to, but when it comes to managing other people’s calendars and working with other departments, they really do a fantastic job that I just don’t have the ability/resources to do.
      I do try to thank our admins in an appropriately low key way, knowing that it’s just part of the job for them, but when someone can manage get me a conference room for 20 people with less than a week’s notice… that’s magical, as far as I’m concerned, and I thank them as though they’ve personally built me my own personal conference room with their own hands. Because that’s how difficult that would be for me to do on my own.

    4. Iris Eyes*

      I am sometimes guilty of this. My office is essentially full of specialized admins, yes decisions are made but we are supporting the money making aspect of the business, not generating revenue ourselves. Anyway, there are some people who complete tasks or projects for me, for them it might just be doing their job but for me that new spreadsheet tool might save me 4 hours a week. They didn’t go above and beyond but their competent work had a huge impact on my job quality. My effusive praise is for the result of their work not the effort they put in.

      1. ket*

        “My effusive praise is for the result of their work not the effort they put in.”

        That’s the key phrase.

    5. Bea*

      Tbh, I’ve known owners who CANNOT do things so I’m not just saving them time clicking a few buttons or filling in forms. I’ve got the memory they used to have or just the memory of where that “thing” is.

      Even my worst boss adored me until he lost his damn mind. But yeah. It’s okay to be appreciative IMO

  12. Mint Chocolate Chip*

    #1 I used to work at a place where my job would have been considered more skilled than our admin assistant, but the truth was that her excellent work kept the place running, which given the many moving parts was no small feat. She was extremely good at her job (one I would have failed miserably at) and I really hated that being an “admin assistant” meant that despite her many years of seniority over me, her work was to support mine (among others). That may have translated into guilt when I had to ask her to do things like mail stuff for me. I hope I never overdid it with the praise, but I really wanted her to know how much I appreciated and respected her.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      In my job (specialized call center ) it is the admins who receive all the praise and thanks from management and callers and the tech staff (who speak to callers and problem solve) gey told how stupid and useless we are. It doesn’t bother me that much, it’s just another variation on the dysfunction of the place.

  13. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1… I wonder if what is, to you, something minor and routine actually makes a bigger than you realise difference to their day?

    Agreed that it can be annoying, and saying something may help! But it is possible if you were to suggest effusive thanks for something major, their reaction would be “but this was major! It removed (major source of stress) from me!”

    TL:DR… might be genuine level of gratitude, not patronising.

    1. Princess Loopy*

      It’s also possible that OP1 is sometimes helping people correct problems they (maybe partially?) caused or getting them out of scrapes. In that case, I understand the effusive praise: I’m super grateful to someone when they help fix something I broke, so if they’re coming across as grateful+chagrined, that might explain things a bit.

      OP still has every right to be annoyed or feel patronized, of course! I’ll be thinking harder about how my gratitude comes across in situations like this for sure.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Ooh, hadn’t thought of that! And yes, OP definitely is very reasonable to feel put out and want people to quit it.

        Yeah, embarassment at my error, impressed by knowledge and effort to fix and very sincere relief that my boss won’t find out could account for a lot :)

        (TBH… my boss… I’d tell him anyway ;) but not all are as aweeome as mine.)

    2. Gumby*

      This. Because I might not have a PhD in physics, but my co-workers who do? They *could* do many of the tasks that I do on a daily basis, but they really, REALLY don’t want to. And they certainly wouldn’t take the time to do about 80% of what I do if I weren’t here. Which is a problem because some of it is required by contract.

  14. LW #2*

    LW#2 here…I’m surprised this has already generated as much discussion as it has (particularly as I sit on a break at 3am…). A few folks have suggested introducing myself with my first name to reduce ambiguity at the outset. I do have a classically male first name and I actually tried doing that for a couple of days…unfortunately it didn’t work. If I’m calling a patient and have to use my title, I think people tune out after hearing “Dr” and I haven’t found a way to emphasize my first name without being awkward about it (Dr. JOHN Dorian doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue…). It’s a little easier if I’m speaking to staff and don’t have to use the title, but it still happens and I’m at a loss as to why. Perhaps I need to slow down when I’m introducing myself? Allison’s script definitely works (and yes, the caller will be mortified!), though being a mid-westerner, I’d LOVE to play to my passivity and avoid anyone’s embarrassment…

    1. Kir Royale*

      Mid-westerner here, I wonder if it has something to do with your accent? Midwest accent is faster and more nasal, and perhaps it sounds different enough on the phone that your name isn’t registering. A recent example is I was saying “hawk” and my husband thought I was saying “hock”. Maybe try slowing your speech at minimum, and try to change the vowels if you can. So your name might sound more like “Jawn” instead of “Jahn.” Those changes should also help lower your pitch.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        I agree about the Midwestern accent. I never realized how nasal I could be until I had to listen to a podcast of myself for class.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          OP2 I have the same problem I am cis-male and every time I talk to someone new I get mis-gendered. I am from the mid-west also but its happened when lived nearish the east cost, also now that I am back in the midwest. I have taken the if I am not likely to speak to them again I just don’t bother correcting them. If I think I will be speaking with them on an ongoing basis I will correct them with a simple “It’s actually sir.” when they apologize and get embarrassed I say “No worries it happens all the time.” But sometimes even if I try not to care the 3rd/4th time in a row I get mis-gendered I get irritated (not at the person but situation) and will correct them even if I am not likely to speak to them again. I don’t think you need to just suck it up if you don’t want to, and you have every right to correct everyone on your proper gender if you so wish.

          I have just decided to embrace it/suck it up becasue I would rather not spend the time/energy it take to correct people and use it (the general mis-gendering) as a funny story to tell people. Almost everyone I know that I tell it to for the first time they say “I don’t think you sound like a women at all.” I have to tell them that is because you already know I am not.

          I used to work retail in electronics it was actually really interesting because sometimes I felt like customers (usually male) tones would change when talking to me on the phone from when they thought I was a women to when they learned I was a man. Some people if I didn’t correct them would call me hon, honey, sweetie, I don’t like those even if someone uses them for both men and women. If you don’t know someone personally don’t call them hon, honey, or sweetie.

          1. Not A Morning Person*

            I use this example of “hon, honey, or sweetie” all the time as examples on the continuum of “how important is this to you to correct”….if I’m in the U.S. south at a store and the clerk calls me honey, I don’t care and actually find it charming. If I am in most other places in the U.S., it can come across as condescending.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              The hon, honey, sugar, or sweetie thing is not important to correct at all. It is one of those things that bothers personally but I am not going to start a crusade against everyone that does it. I’ve been called those by people on the phone and in person who I am sure use it for everyone and I never say anything. Really for me the only person I would think to call hon, honey or sweetie would be my significant other, but as with most things I say to each their own.

      2. JamieS*

        Yeah, I wondered the same thing. If his name is really John and not just an example they may be hearing Joan.

        Also hawk isn’t supposed to be pronounced the same as hock?

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

          Interestingly, I’m Midwestern but pronounce them differently. It’s not a *huge* difference, but it’s there. “Hock” is more of a “hah-k” while “hawk” has the “aww” sound instead.

          It’s a less extreme version of Don versus Dawn. Those are pronounced very differently to me, but I was on the phone with someone who kept referring to Don and I couldn’t find that person in our system*. Couldn’t find them because they were actually saying Dawn.

          *you could search by location and any part of the name. It’s often quicker to search for the first name+location while they’re talking instead of waiting until you can ask for the last name.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Well, “Midwest” is a pretty broad geographical area. . .

            I’m from Kansas City, currently in Michigan. Both identify as part of the Midwest, per the maps. The accents are completely different. From an outsider’s p.o.v., MI people sound more like MN and WI with the upper Midwest accent.

          2. Persimmons*

            These differences sound very Brooklyn-esque to me, I had no idea there was a similar divide amongst Midwestern speakers.

            1. schnauzerfan*

              Lord yes. I’m from west river South Dakota and I can pick an east river South Dakotan out after just a few words.

          3. CAA*

            This is known as the “cot caught merger”. Wikipedia has a decent article about it. As a native Californian, I have this merger in my speech, but my parents are from Detroit and Chicago so I have lots of family members who do not. I learned about it when one of my cousins married a man named Don and half the family kept correcting the other half’s pronunciation with “it’s Doohn not Dawn”.

            1. Persimmons*

              Thanks for this! I was thinking about how odd it was to pronounce those two words the same way, and sure enough per the Wiki article I’m in one of the regions listed as “strongly resistant” to the merger.

          4. SKA*

            Huh! I pronounce hock and hawk the same. And Don and Dawn the same. My college roommates also tried to convince me that Erin and Aaron were also pronounced different, but I couldn’t even hear the difference when they said them both.

            (I’m from northwestern PA, which is culturally and lingually pretty Midwestern, despite technically being Mid-Atlantic)

          5. Lindsay J*

            I think it’s an accent thing.

            I’m from New Jersey originally.

            When I saw Dawn it has the (I believe, my linguistics is rusty) dipthong sound of AW, so it rhymes with lawn or brawn.

            Don just has the short O sound so it rhymes with on.

            When my boyfriend says them, they sound the same.

            Similar with Aaron and Erin.

            When I say Aaron it’s more like “Air-in”. Erin is more like “Err-in”.

            In Texas they sound the same. I was confused at first because people kept on mentioning an IT employee that I heard as “Erin” whom I had not met. I mentioned that I hadn’t met her, and I was told “Of course you have. You were talking to him before.” That’s when I put two and two together and realized they were saying Aaron the whole time.

        2. Kir Royale*

          Hawk Bowl is the name of the hometown bowling alley, so the “hock” may have been more pronounced than when pointing out the hawk flying over the lake, at least I hope so.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Long-time Philadelphian here, with family and professional connections in the South. I’m a mile-a-minute speaker and I tend not to realize it until I start tripping my own self up and start to stutter.

      Definitely try slowing down your speech in a way that doesn’t come across as patronizing or condescending. Not only are you highly educated and working in a fast-paced environment with other fast thinkers and speakers among your colleagues, but also you come from a milieu where it was already your speech habit to rev it up more quickly than the people you’re treating now.

      As a lawyer I’ve found a fine line between slowing down my speech and talking down to my clients. I’m sure you’ll find it yourself and do just great, though.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Definitely slow your speech down. Southern is more of a draaaawwwwlll. Midwestern is more clipped.

        I talk too fast too. The judges occasionaly have to tell me to slow down. It can be funny. Occasionally.

        1. Seriously?*

          Slow down and enunciate. It is possible that they are mishearing the name because you are saying it fast and your accent is different. Some classically male names are close to classically female names. So John could be mistaken for Joan or Larry for Mary.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Some of this might also just be the nature of people who don’t pay attention. I answered the phone at my old job. My standard greeting was “Thanks for calling the 99th precinct, this is Amy, how can I help you?” I cannot even count how many times the response to this was a request for a service that we did not provide. And when I would say “I’m sorry” or “excuse me” they would respond “Oh, this isn’t ABC Services?”

      1. Washi*

        Yep! I would say “Hell, this is Llamas United, Washi speaking” and the caller would go “Hi, can I speak to Washi?” Or “is this Llamas United?”

        I think when people call, especially someone they know to be very busy like a doctor, they are rehearsing their question while you are introducing yourself, and they just kind of hear “Hithisis DOCTOR namename blah blah how can I help you?” I found it helped to make sure I was really pausing and enunciating. “Hello (pause) this (very slight pause) Llamas United (enunciated extremely clearly, slight pause) Washi (enunciated) speaking.” It was hard to adjust to, but I don’t think it actually sounded that weird and I noticed a substantial decrease in people who didn’t catch what I was saying.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Heh. I was once completely thrown when I was calling to YET AGAIN attempt to leave a voicemail for the medical billing person, and a new human being answered the phone. And once I gathered myself enough to persevere into this plot twist, the new person promptly and competently took care of everything. (Had I been in that office I would definitely have emulated OP1’s coworkers–I had taken to calling the front desk to point out that calling the billing person wasn’t working, since she never answered the phone nor returned calls.)

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        This happened ad nauseum at my old job. To get to me, they actually had to select my name & title in the phone tree. Still, after I answered “Yadda Yadda Health Department, This is EC, how can I help you?” I’d get a “oh, is this the Yadda Yadda Dept?” or “I need to speak with EC.”

        Or they’d want their marriage license, or their shot records, or something else very, very unrelated to the choice they had selected to end up with me. And my option was listed last. They would have heard Vital Records, then Nurse, then some other stuff…..then Environmental Health. And then once I tried to transfer them, they’d get irritated with me of why I couldn’t just do it.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          I completely zone out during recorded phone tree prompts. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone “crap!” And had to hang up and start again because I stopped paying attention after “press 2 for…” (And it always seems to happen on the systems that aren’t programmed to repeat the menu or have a “press 0 to reach a live person” option.)

          1. Persimmons*

            Every freaking one says “Listen carefully, our options have recently changed”. LIES.

          2. CanCan*

            Sometimes, when they don’t say “press 0 to reach a live person”, if you whack the zero repeatedly, you might still get transferred to a person. I get this with my cell phone company. If you press zero once or twice, it says “That is not a valid choice.” But if you do it 10-20 times quickly, it will transfer. That’s the only way I know to get to a live person with them.

            1. Artemesia*

              I once read an article that said if you swore you would get transferred to a real person some places as it indicted out of patience — I tried it the next time I was getting sent around auto record hell and it worked. It was kind of spooky. Pounding 0 works most of the time as well as you note.

              1. DArcy*

                Yeah, a lot of my friends who work in call centers themselves use that trick. It’s a computer filter, so it has zero read for tone, just word recognition. So you don’t need to raise your voice or form coherent sentences, just recite common swear words for the system to flag.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        I seem to lock up and not know how to proceed when the greeting on the phone is not what I was expecting. If I think I’m calling my kid’s doctor and I get a dog groomer, my brain is asking if I dialed wrong, misheard what the person on the other end said, etc. After what seems like an eternity, I can usually muster, “I’m sorry, I was trying to reach Dr. K’s office,” and the person will say, “Yes, this is,” or “Nope, you got the dog groomer.” Sometimes I can’t hear, sometimes I can’t dial. IDK. . .

      4. jack*

        At my job in college:

        “Restaurant name, pick up or delivery?”

        “Do you guys deliver?”

    4. MechanicalPencil*

      I’m a southerner, and I have to confess that I’m sometimes focusing more on the content of what you’re saying, so my rote “Yes ma’am/sir” just comes out to denote that I am listening/agreeing/whatever — and I just accidentally pick the wrong gender (even when I know the correct one!). I’m so wrapped up in listening to the legalities or medical intricacies that I just slip. It’s not a slight against you, it’s just my brain apparently can’t chew gum and walk. As soon as it slips out, I realize my error and am mortified, but that moment comes when I’m not sure whether to address it with “well of course you’re a sir, sir” or just keep moving as if nothing happened. Miss Manners never wrote an article on that to my knowledge.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        As a person who also gets mis-gendered all the time, that could be the case sometimes but when it happens so often I think it really is just a case of I have a higher voice then what people usually attribute to men/males. The people who mis-gender have not done anything wrong or on purpose. That is why most of the time I don’t even bother correcting people. One of the few times it does get a lil awkward for the other person not for me is when we have had a 10/15 min conversation where they have called me miss/mam several times and at the end of the conversation they ask what my name is, so I tell them my distinctly male name and then they apologize repeatedly, I just tell them “no worries it happens all the time.”

      2. DArcy*

        I find that a lot of people will push back shockingly aggressively at being corrected over misgendering me. Like, they’ll just ignore me going, “Hey, it’s Miss not sir.” until I start getting angry, then, “Sir, calm down.”

        NOT SIR.

    5. Southern polite person*

      I just wouldn’t do anything to mortify patients or their families, really. (Not saying you do this, just in general one should not.)

      Speaking as someone who has taken care of a very sick child over many years, and thus had to speak on the phone with many many health care professionals, paraprofessionals, support staff, office workers… I do my best to use the right address, and I am unfailingly polite, but my focus is on the health issue I’m calling about. Making me feel bad about mis-gendering you does not help me in my already difficult day, nor does it make me have good feelies about you. If I later meet you and realize my mistake, I’ll apologize, and I won’t make that mistake again. If I don’t realize it, I hope you don’t bring it up — and I won’t make that mistake again.

      Of course one’s gender identity is important. But is it the important thing *in this context*? No, it is not. Helping your patients and their families s what’s important.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I get your point, but I don’t think being corrected about mis-gendering someone should make you feel bad. A simply I’m sorry and move on is sufficient, it is the same as if someone mispronounced a persons name or called them the wrong name. Yes your health issue is more important and you might be having a bad day, but if a person chooses not be mis-gendered, misprounced name, or called the wrong name, you should not have a negative reaction against them. I get mis-gendered on the phone almost every time I talk to someone new. I usually don’t correct people just because it feels more of a hassle for me. I think it would be the same as if I got upset with someone because they thought I was a women on the phone, it is not their fault (I do sound like a women on the phone) they did not do it on purpose.

        Someone else below mentioned a good point from a medical perspective it can cause confusion if patients family says I spoke to a female doctor but there are no female doctors attending to that particular patient or in the reverse situation.

      2. DArcy*

        No. My gender is important to me, and I don’t care if it “makes your day worse” to be corrected. You will be politely but firmly corrected until you STOP MISGENDERING ME. And yes, I will follow through with your supervisor or manager.

        You do not get to dictate what is or is not important “in this context”.

      3. Mad Baggins*

        Absolutely your focus should be on the health issue you’re calling about. But what if you got the doctor’s name wrong? Or the hospital room number wrong? Or the date wrong? Or the phone number wrong? Or any other super minor thing that you can just easily correct and move on to the problem at hand? Surely that would be simple enough to do, and would help engender “good feelies” on both sides. And it would mean a lot to the professionals you work with to be identified correctly. They work with many many patients and presumably work hard to get your information right as well.

    6. The Cleaner*

      I like Alison’s suggestion of leading with “JOHN Dorian, the doctor treating your mother.” Repeating the name might help it register with folks as well — when appropriate, to say something like “This is Dr JOHN Dorian calling from the West Side Clinic, please call me JOHN.”

      I am NOT suggesting you do this, but this reminded me of a coworker from years ago who was ruffled that he didn’t have an admin assigned to him, so he would make phone calls and start with “Are you available to speak with Mr. Jim Potts from Tea, Inc? Thank you, he will be right with you.” and then he would pause, and then start up with “Hello this is Jim, thanks for taking my call.” I suppose if you simply must, that could reinforce your gender!

    7. Ali G*

      What about turning the conversation around so they have to talk first and thus will be more likely to listen to you when introduce yourself. As others have mentioned, when you launch into your opening like “Hi Mrs. Smith, this is Dr. John Dorian calling from General Hospital…” they’ve tuned out as soon as they hear “Dr.” because they’ve been waiting for your call.
      Would it be rude to run your calls this way:
      You: *dials number*
      Patient: Hello?
      Y: Hi is this Jane Smith?
      P: Yes
      Y: Hi Jane, this is John Dorian, the Dr. you saw at GH, how are you today?”
      Because she had to answer a question from you – she is now listening to you.

      1. Editor*

        And.. caller assumes you are a telemarketer and may hang up. It would be better to say “This is a follow-up call from Medical Practice for Prudence Sickwell. Is she available?” When Prudence says “That’s me” or whatever she says to identify herself, then the physician can introduce himself.

        I just don’t make any call these days without saying upfront who I am, because of you sound like you are on a fishing expedition, you won’t get past the beginning of the phone call nor will anyone pick up while you leave a message.

    8. ket*

      You could try, “Hi, this is Dr. John Dorian calling from Whatever Hospital; you can call me Dr. John if you’d like.” Maybe ending on the male first name would cause it to stick more? No idea. And then you’re maybe playing on the Southern Miss Kate/Mister James thing.

  15. Daisy*

    1/ I’m an admin, and my boss does this and I absolutely hate it. Everyone else I support thanks me in a normal way- like, an offhand ‘thanks’ for copying a document, and more effusive thanks when they really feel it (e.g., this week when I stopped one of the consultants going to completely the wrong town for a meeting). But my boss, I do the easiest thing a trained monkey could do and she goes on and on for ten minutes about how I’m a rockstar and she couldn’t do without me. It makes me feel awful and like everyone must think I’m am imbecile. Obviously people need admins, but it is objectively just about the easiest job in the world, no need to rub it in.

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      I wonder if, especially when bosses do it, they are buying in to the “what motivates staff other than payrises? Being thanked for their job” (seriously, there were about a dozen articles with almost this exact wording as their click-bait headlines)

      1. Who the eff is Hank?*

        I swear that one of my coworkers read a “how to work with millennials” article and is now clinging to the idea that all the millennials in the office require ongoing praise. Every time she talks to someone under the age of 35 she will say, “By the way, you’re going a GREAT job!” with a thumbs up and big smile, no matter what the conversation was about.

    2. Les G*

      Don’t you think you’re going a bit far in the opposite direction? For a lot of folks copying a document or remembering folks’ travel plans wouldn’t be “objectively the easiest job in the world.”

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Truth. I think I’m a pretty smart cookie, but I volunteered at a charity shop for a couple of years and the point-of-sale system absolutely defeated me. I couldn’t run a credit card transaction to save my life.

    3. Airy*

      I’d be crap at it (organisation is pretty hard for me and having to answer to multiple people stresses me out), so don’t assume what’s easy for you is objectively easy. A) value your own skills, B) don’t look down on admins in general, it’s not very nice.

      1. Daisy*

        I’m not looking down on them, I AM one. And it’s possible to be good and bad at it, like any job, and I think I’m alright at it. But your comment to me feels like part of the same patronising attitude again- if you aren’t constantly going ‘Oh being an admin is SOOO valuable! Most people couldn’t do it, it’s super difficult!’ it’s somehow devaluing yourself. I think it’s fine to acknowledge that it’s a pretty simple low-skilled job, in comparison to almost anything else, rather than throwing a parade every time someone uses the photocopier.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          I’m wondering if you might be seeing it with a bit of “it’s easy for me therefore easy” – which doesn’t always work!

          I’m at a senior IT level and am very good at my job. I seriously would be lost doing an admin’s job. I’m good at IT. I am shit at the tasks an admin can do “easily”. Different people have different skills, and for me, it *IS* so difficult! If I were in an admin role, I’d get fired.

          Different-skilled is not low-skilled. And good admins are anything but low-skilled.

          1. DaisyGrrl*

            Agreed. A few years back, I worked in an office where we had to replace our magical admin on short notice. One of the people we tried out to replace her was a former IT worker who had many years of experience in her field. She lasted two weeks. Looked like a deer caught in the headlights the whole time.

            What we needed was someone who could keep track of many moving parts for the whole office, support an insanely busy executive, and be okay with constant interruptions throughout the day. Not the skill set that was required in her previous career!

          2. Washi*

            Same! I was briefly an admin assistant and would never do it again. I was ok at the job requirements and I’m a pretty organized person, but tbh I don’t have the right attitude for a support position. I hated being interrupted all the time, hated having to do something in a super inefficient way just because it’s How Things Are Done, hated the constant reminders/check ins from people who were afraid that I would forget about their task…

            It IS a difficult job for some people, not because scanning a document is sooo hard but because of all the organization and emotional labor that goes into it. So I do appreciate our admin and his amazing supportive no-stupid-question attitude!

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I get what Daisy is saying here.

          I don’t agree that most people could do the job well; I’ve seen a lot of bad admins.

          But I’m often uncomfortable with the degree to which people here emphasize how admin work is such important work/it’s like magic/etc. — not because it’s not important work, but because we rarely do that to that degree for any other position, ever other support roles (when’s the last time you heard this about your payroll person or your help desk?) and it does sometimes feel patronizing and head-patting. I know people are doing that in reaction to the fact that admins are often unappreciated and underpaid, but in my opinion, people over-correct for that in a way that can feel performative and a bit condescending.

          In some ways it “others” admins in the same way things like Secretaries Day do.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            And I would add — I think the responses about “but it’s not an easy job” miss the point. Lots of jobs aren’t easy jobs and we still don’t jump to heap praise on them every time they come up in the way we do with admin jobs. That’s part of what makes it condescending, I think. And again, I get that people do this in response to how often admins aren’t appreciated, but when you go overboard on it, it does feel patronizing and icky.

            1. JamieS*

              I think also part if it is people conflate “I personally can’t do it” with “this job objectively requires a high level of skill” which aren’t the same. Personally I’m a horrible burger flipper as evidenced by my very short stint working in fast food. However my personal inability doesn’t change the fact it’s not skilled work as we’d typically use the term.

              I know this standard may vary but in general my determination for skilled work is: if 100 random people with no prior experience/training/education were given a couple weeks training could the majority plausibly do the job at a satisfactory level? If the answer is yes then it’s not a “skilled” job. Beyond that it depends.

              1. Mad Baggins*

                Yes, I think this is where most people are floundering. There are many low-skill jobs I would not excel at, but could probably learn to do satisfactorily, if miserably. How do I show appreciation to someone who DOES excel at it, and does it cheerfully?

            2. OP #1*

              Thanks Alison – it’s really when it rises to a performative level that it starts to bother me. It’s one thing for someone to say “You restocked the pens? You’re awesome” and quite another when folks clap for you at a meeting because you have “the most important job in the building.” The first feels like a normal interaction between humans, and the second is just… weird to sit through.

              1. Akcipitrokulo*

                Yeah, second would be awkward. Somewhere else someone said it can also be the effect…. so dead easy thing gets lots of thanks if it had an impact “You replaced ink in time for my printout for super important meeting! I love you!!!” type of thing :)

          2. LQ*

            I hear lots of people having the same level of praise for the good help desk staff around here. I have never met my payroll person (and I think a lot of other people haven’t either). I think there is some level of visibility and being in the middle of the work getting done that matters for this too. An admin is a person in a support role who you are most likely to see and interact with every day. I used to do technical work in my role and so many people called it magic because they didn’t understand. It’s stuff that is easy and straight forward to me and often the littlest things they thought were the biggest magic, when the really hard stuff they wouldn’t understand the work required. I don’t know that it’s only admins who get this.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s certainly only admins who get it to this degree here. Like clockwork, when admin work comes here there’s always a flood of comments about how valuable admins are, even when it’s tangential to the topic. You don’t see that with other professions.

            2. AnotherAlison*

              I think teachers get this a lot, too. “It’s the most important job in the world.” Really? I have a friend from childhood who is a teacher in our school district and just now makes what I made in my engineering job the day I graduated 18 years ago. You would think the most important job in the entire world would pay better.

              1. Morning Glory*

                I think this is a really important factor: the gap between the praise, and treatment. If everyone is comfortable with the admin being the lowest-paid person in the office with few/no opportunities for advancement, and if they’re comfortable losing good admins over this structure, then they don’t really think it’s the most valuable or important job in the world.

                And, representing easy-to-do tasks like copying a paper or setting up some coffees as super hard is beyond patronizing, it’s insulting. There are some components of admin work that are really, genuinely difficult. But, getting effusive praise for very basic but also visible tasks shows that people maybe don’t think you have a lot going on, or think this is the height of your contribution to the team, so they’re giving you all the thanks and recognition they’d give someone in Sales for landing a big account. Except, all that does in communicate how little they think of your job.

        3. Luna*

          As a former admin for over half a decade, I totally get what you are saying. Interesting to see so many people who have never done admin work telling you your experience isn’t real…

          I do somewhat disagree though that it’s the easiest job in the world, mostly because not all admin jobs are created equal. Some are really easy, some are way more complex, and many fall somewhere in between. It varies a lot depending on the field/company, the department, and the boss.

          But no matter what type of admin someone is, it is always patronizing to give effusive praise for clearly easy tasks, like photocopying. IME most people who did this were the ones who were oblivious to the full scope of my (very complex) admin role, and had no idea that I did not in fact spend all my days making copies and scheduling meetings.

          Also- I guarantee that everyone can indeed learn how to use a copier. The people saying they can’t have just never needed to learn, because they have always had an admin do it for them. Not *having* to learn something is not the same as not being *able* to learn something.

          And if companies really valued my super-special, differently-skilled admin self, instead of condescending praise they could instead, I don’t know, maybe pay me more for my supposedly important work? Oh and did I mention, PAY ME MORE???! Please and thank you.

          1. epi*

            You make a great point about telling admins their experiences aren’t real. It feels like demanding a form of emotional labor, instructing people to take these comments as (probably) meant and ignore their own reaction. It undermines the argument that we all see admins as indispensable peers. People who are really seen as peers don’t generally get told that their boundaries are overreactions.

            If you learn that something you are doing is likely to give offense, what is there to say but “good to know, I’ll stop doing it”? Some people will appreciate knowing what you meant, others won’t. But the desire for people to quit being rude is universal.

          2. Future Homesteader*

            +100. This is a great distillation of the issues surrounding admin work, especially the third paragraph – I’ve gotten extremely effusive and nonstop praise from people who genuinely meant it, but they also seemed to be the people who didn’t realize the eighty million other things I did that were far more vital (and often complicated) than that one copy job…

            Also, the best way to show your appreciation to your admin? Respond to their emails and be as organized as you can when handing them a task (I’m looking at you, person who pulls out a year’s worth of crumpled receipts from your purse and dumps them on my desk on the last day of the fiscal year and a full week after I told you I needed them).

          3. Sarah*

            Very interesting! I don’t think I’m an effusive overpraiser of our admin person, but I do always say thank you…partly for me it’s that I KNOW I could do the copies myself or be more on top of paperwork that she’s helping me with, etc. etc. and so I feel somewhat guilty about having someone else do that work for me (even though it is entirely appropriate). Part of it is also that’s I’m relatively new to a position with admin support, and so it does feel a little like “Wait, what, another person is going to help me fill out my expense report instead of me doing it myself???? That’s amazing!!” Like yes, clearly I CAN do it myself, but it is pretty awesome (and can feel a little guilt inducing like I’m getting away with something) to have assistance.

          4. Who the eff is Hank?*

            >Oh and did I mention, PAY ME MORE???! Please and thank you.

            *insert multiple praise hand and clap hand emojis here*

            “Thank you” and “You’re the best!” is great and all, but that doesn’t pay the bills. Paying our admins more than just above a poverty wage would be so much better.

          5. ket*

            PAY ME MORE is indeed the most important part, if it really is so special :)

            I think there are different types of admin job, too, though. Ok, can run a photocopier — great. Can shepherd a specific type of funding opportunity through five offices to get approval to take the money, create the appropriate bank account, etc. — not “easiest job in the world”. Knows when to approach the executive secretary to get him to approve blah-blah-blah and how to work around the admin in the next office who is waiting for retirement, not working, but not relinquishing tasks — next-level.

            I do math, so some very simple things that I do are considered magic by other people. I guess I’ve tried to figure out how to embrace it instead of being annoyed that other people think this easy thing is so hard. YMMV.

            1. OP #1*

              This. As far as admin jobs go, this one is pretty easy (it’s a small-ish department and I don’t do a ton of calendar management, which is the part of the job I’m most likely to struggle with).

    4. Kir Royale*

      Disagree that it is the easiest job. A task itself may be simple, like photocopying in your example, but juggling all the different tasks for various people, remembering who asked for what and doing the job promptly are highly valuable skills that not everyone possesses. Your boss may be particularly bad at remembering little details and organizing, so she may not be exaggerating when she says she couldn’t do it without you.

    5. Just Employed Here*

      You must have never come across a truly incompetent admin! :-) There are many, many ways in which admin tasks can be screwed up…

      1. namenamename*

        Sure, but comparing competent workers’ work to incompetent workers’ work isn’t really meaningful praise? “You’re not awful like the other [members of a professional role] I’ve worked with” isn’t really a nice thing to say. It’s a reminder that the bar is low.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Yeah, people are mentioning that a lot (that “you’ve never had a terrible admin” and such).

          Well, I’ve also worked with terrible salespeople, engineers, and graphic designers, and no one really dumps praise on their competent counterparts. I mean, Mike was one of the worst salespeople I’ve ever seen, and it caused a lot of downstream aggravation when he didn’t do his job, but no one told John how awesome he was because of it.

    6. gecko*

      It’s probably easy for you because you’re good at it :)

      But yes, your boss applauding every time you walk like you’re a toddler is pretty insulting, even more so than LW1’s predicament. Does your boss have any context about what is and isn’t tough in the job? Since she’s your boss, you could probably talk with her about how you want to be recognized for good work and what that means to you.

      Or she’s kind of a dingus in which case I’m sorry you have to put up with her.

    7. AnotherAlison*

      FWIW, I appreciate what you’re saying. I had a job that was an “only one in the company” non-engineering job, but I had come to it from an engineering position, and we’re an engineering company. People would give effusive praise when I did something that took 2 minutes and was easy, like logging into a database and pulling a table of data. I couldn’t help but be annoyed, and think, “Gee, I hope I can do that, because my 10 year old could do it.” My actual job had more complicated analysis and other tasks as part of it, but a lot of people I interacted with only knew I was the person with database access who could get X for them. I hadn’t really experienced this before, and I don’t know if my current department admin feels the same way, but I do think it’s an issue at my company because of the male-dominated environment. A lot of our female admin staff have masters degrees and decades of experience, and they still get high praise for placing an 8-person catering order.

    8. Baby Fishmouth*

      I’m an admin, and I agree it’s a really easy job – for me. But I’ve met so many other admins that are constantly stressed out, don’t know how to manage their time, don’t know how to manage the people they support, and can’t figure out good uses of technology to solve problems. For those people, this isn’t the right job at all – and while I don’t quite ‘get’ what’s so difficult about the job, because that’s my exact skillset, it does explain a lot of the praise I get for the tasks that seem simple to me.

    9. AnonInfinity*


      Every time someone went over the top thanking me for completing a simple task, such as overnighting an envelope with important grant materials, those were the days I went home feeling demeaned and defeated. To non-admins, I guess filling out an overnight form and walking to a drop-off box is difficult. To us (or just me), it’s mailing an envelope, and effusive praise for it is tantamount to patting me on the head like I’m a two-year-old who managed to get the square peg in the square hole. The effusive praise for really simple, day-to-day things was, for me, the most frustrating part of being an admin; it was never enough that I took care of someone’s task, but, no, THEN I was responsible for emotionally consoling them about it.

      My old boss was great about saying a simple “thanks” in the moment and then pulling me in every few months for a few minutes to really say a heartfelt “thank you, you saved my life a few times, you’re easy to work with, you just get stuff done, and I appreciate you being here. How are you doing? What do you need?” That was fantastic, respectful, and how you treat someone like a coworker with a professional job rather than a person in the office who has a collection of favors to complete.

    10. Bea*

      It’s not the easiest job. You’ve never had to train a person who simply can’t do it. You’re doing yourself and other admins a disservice with that attitude.

      1. Ja'am*

        Just what I thought.
        “…objectively just about the easiest job in the world…”
        Not only is that /objectively/ not true (and rude to the admins that have to work hard at their jobs), that attitude is used to justify lower pay and underappreciation.

  16. like, whatever*

    #3 I once interviewed for a programming job, but the interview questions were just weird, and had nothing to do with programming. So I asked “are you looking for a programmer or a graphic designer?” Turns out they were looking for a designer, and when the dude found out I was in no way qualified for that, he lost his shit and blamed me for wasting his time. I calmly said “your job ad said ‘programmer’, and you clearly didn’t read my resume so YOU are the one who’s wasting MY time.” What an idiot

    1. LW 3*

      Yes! It’s confusing to me because I’d think they’d get a better pool of candidates if the job announcement was more in line with what they appear to be looking for. The announcement said they were looking for someone to make their teapots, but the interview revealed they’re looking for someone to expand their clientele.

      1. Bea*


        Nope. Get right out of there. They’re scamming for a low paid sales position. Seen it million times. That’s a classics move by these kinds of cons.

        1. Ali G*

          Yes – run! Unless you secretly want to be a sales person, this is a bad idea. They will make you responsible for something you likely aren’t good at (not a dig at you – people are either good salespeople or they are not), set completely unreasonable goals for you, and then when you ultimately fall short they will blame you for everything wrong in the company and fire you. Better to stay unemployed/in a bad situation/whatever your situation is than set yourself up for this mess.

    2. Khlovia*

      My headscript says you continued as follows: “If you wanted a graphic designer, why on Earth did you advertise for a programmer? Don’t you know the difference?

      Because clearly they didn’t; or the person who placed the ad didn’t, and the person you were talking to didn’t proofread the ad before it went in.

  17. LiptonTea4Me*

    #2. I get misgendered on the phone all the time, I no longer care. Since it is not important to the call, it doesn’t matter.

  18. Pollygrammer*

    #1–Even it’s just your job, if anything is out of the regular routine, it’s likely to be seen as something of a favor. And it’s possible that you’re the only person in the organization people can frequently thank at all. There are environments where you just don’t thank your fellow team members; because it never comes up since everything is 100% solo or 100% collaborative and nobody ever really does you a favor, or it just isn’t the culture to really thank people. You might not be the recipient of their most effusive thanks–it might be close to their only thanks.

    The less I get favors, the more excited I tend to be when somebody actually does me a favor. Because…I need an outlet for gratitude? I have no idea. :) But I’ll realize, hey all that person did was bring me the stuff I left on the printer or ask if I wanted a cup of coffee since they’re getting one, and I gave them a super warm smile and an enthusiastic “I really appreciate it!”

    1. I Herd the Cats*

      So I just left more or less the same response below, from my perspective as the admin, and thank you for thanking me!

      1. Pollygrammer*

        Thank you for agreeing with me! I’ll add that I’ve been an office admin, but for a very small org, and all of these nuances passed way over my head. :)

  19. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

    OP 3: Run! Run and don’t look back. At best, it’s an elaborate bait and switch designed to confuse the candidate and make them accept a position nobody wants (for example, a developer position that ends up being sales or tech support as if by magic). At worst… it the mother of all dysfunctional places.

  20. gecko*

    LW1, some other possibilities depending on your relationship with the person:

    – In a smiley tone, “We both get paid too much to spend this much time talking about buying staples! Come back after I’ve spent four straight hours with Quickbooks and I’ll accept the thanks then.”

    – “Thanks for the compliments! I know I’m valued here.” (Maybe for the first couple times you start speaking up about it)

    – “Thanks for the compliments, though praising me for this part of my job is like complimenting you for doing arithmetic or sending an email.”

    – “Please don’t–this is an every-day part of my job. You can tell my boss all the nice stuff you were about to say, though!”

    1. Bea*

      Ah bringing up Quickbooks will set my kneejerk reaction off because it’s the easiest software in the world to ~master~. Four hours? Wtf are you doing that takes four hours?

    2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      I remember reading that deflecting compliments can train others not to give them. I like the I know I’m valued here phrasing, but the others sound more like deflection to me.

  21. I Herd the Cats*

    As the office cat-herder …. I think a big part of it is “the thank you loop” — as in, the rest of the office goes about their day assembling teapots and crafting new teas and whatnot, and I’m the sole person (in a fairly large office) who gets direct interactions where I’m constantly being *asked* for something, even if it’s something objectively trivial, like a phone number or a reminder of a person’s name. So I suspect that for some folks, it’s that they are directly asking me to do X, and then I do it (quite efficiently, without a reminder, thankyouverymuch) and they feel like thanks is part of the social contract? I don’t know if I’m articulating this well. For THEM, their jobs are mostly larger projects on a set course; they’re not getting a constant feedback loop in the form of “I asked you for a teapot and you made it so thanks.” They’ve got eight months to make that teapot according to the detailed specs (Our teapots are very nice.)

    I understand how it can feel patronizing, and I’m sure at times it can *be* patronizing, but I mostly answer with a breezy “no worries!” or “just doin’ my job!” and get back to it. I will also agree with other comments that for the vast majority of my coworkers, my admin job looks impossible to them and they are truly mystified how I could do it all, and well. That place would grind to a halt without me and they know it.

    1. SpellingBee*

      I’m retired now, but was a legal secretary/assistant/whatever you want to call it for nearly 40 years. I was good at my job and mostly enjoyed the folks I worked for. One of the young attorneys I worked for at one job would ask me for “favors” – as in, “could you please do me a favor and mail this letter/put these receipts on an expense report/other task that was a normal part of my duties.” He was such a nice guy and was really trying to be considerate! I always told him that I’d be happy to do the task and that I appreciated the fact that he asked rather than ordered, but that it wasn’t a favor, it was part of my job. I finally broke him of the habit but it took a while.

    2. Tish, the qa tester/bug spotter*

      * I will also agree with other comments that for the vast majority of my coworkers, my admin job looks impossible to them and they are truly mystified how I could do it all, and well.*

      THIS. I’ve told our new office manager/admin how much I appreciate her for a few reasons, but a good chunk is that I have no idea where supplies come from or how we pay for them or how we get furniture moved or who to email about time sheet accounts or how to send stuff to replicating or get a meeting catered or any of the other stuff that keeps getting added to her job. There are at least 5 other people in the office who could make a good stab at doing my job, none know how to do hers–and we were without an admin for 2 months while they went through the hiring process.

      1. Morning Glory*

        Does she get paid more than you? Or much, much, less than you? Does she have the same opportunities for growth that you do?

        That feeds pretty strongly into the patronizing perception a lot of admins are talking about, and in part, Alison’s reference to the perception of a peer vs. “the help.” If the position is sooo valuable and admins are worth their weight in gold, then they should be compensated accordingly, using the same retention strategies as other positions, instead of compliments. If the company is not willing to do that, then the the admin does not feel so valued after all, which makes the waterfall of enthusiastic compliments feel disingenuous.

        Yes I know you may not have control over this. It does not always matter, in terms of how the admin perceives the compliment.

      2. Clare*

        I think part of the reason why this feels weird to me is that you don’t know those things because you weren’t trained on them, since it isn’t your job. Your office manager didn’t know those things when she first started either, but she was taught because it was part of her job duties. I do try to say a simple thanks to our admin (and others too, not just her), but it would feel weird to me to give some amazing “wow you rock!” response to ordering supplies- of course she knows how to do it, she was specifically trained on it!

  22. I Love Thrawn*

    I’m an admin at a church, and I have a slightly different irritation on the subject of the first letter today. I get women – yes, it’s always women, no surprise, it’s a Southern Baptist church – especially on email, asking me for help and spending way too much effort apologizing for their need to ask me for something. I am here to help, people, whatever I can do, and frankly it does irritate the tar out of me that they don’t feel they can just be straightforward in asking. Doesn’t matter how busy I am, I make the time, with a good attitude. And this is a small rant – I hate that women in this subculture feel they have to be so apologetic about even existing, much less asking the church ministry assistant for something that’s really quite minor. After almost 15 years in this area, I’ve seen it wayyyyyy too much. Some I know to be truly apologetic, and other women do it because it’s expected of them, and they are playing the game. Either way sucks.

  23. Justin*

    Pretty much anyone who doesn’t know my name calls me “Ma’am” on the phone, and has since I was 13 or so. It’s fun!

    I’d do as suggested, gently correct them or slip my first name in there at some point. To me this happens most often during customer service calls when they have no reason not to be strangers, but I am thankful that most of them now start by looking up my info/account and thus know my name is, well, you see what it is.

  24. Environmental Compliance*

    A good admin is worth their weight in gold.

    Case in point:
    Our admin is fantastic. She is a lovely person and I can rely on her to do magical, magical things. All my compliance reports have to be hard copy snail mailed, and if I hand her a thing to FedEx out, give it a couple hours and I have a tracking number in my email. I don’t have to track her down and remind her to mail the Very Important Documents That If The State Doesn’t Get We Shut Down. She also knows who does *everything* and where *everything* is stored. It’s awesome.
    We have another woman whose work crosses with Awesome Admin. She is mostly finance, but also does some admin stuff. She is relatively unreliable. By relatively unreliable, I mean that I’m not always confident that our electric, water, or internet bills get paid even close to on time. I had to call and argue an invoice after telling her how to search through the financial records system because we got double billed on a state fee. If I had to rely on her for all the admin work….I’d quite possibly go nuts.

    1. I Love Thrawn*

      Admin work is often tougher than people think. I enjoy what I do, I’m good with details, but follow through is probably the number one most important qualities in a good assistant, of any kind. Which obviously yours does very well.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I think that the good admins make it look effortless, so people think it must be easy. I know I couldn’t do it – been there, done that!

        1. Bea*

          Ding ding ding. Winner.

          I’ve had a boss think that since I’m good at things, I could teach any old fool to do my job. This place was basic and simple, I streamlined everything personally. And it was utter torture trying to train an incompetent replacement. 2 weeks!!! Of trying to teach a person to respond with follow up questions or to know when the buzzer went off to check the gate. Or count inventory *shivers*

          She was fired a few days after my last day. I went back to help the next one who thankfully at least showed some promise. I’m still missed needless to say but I’m far away and making so much more so maybe if we ever move back it’ll be in time for their semi retirement…since I’m the person who’s had multiple people want me to take over their family businesses. So yeah…that happens.

        2. bonkerballs*

          That’s very true. In my previous job I was an admin and my ED and I didn’t really get along. Like, we both thought the other was a perfectly fine person, but our personalities just clashed in a certain way that led to our working relationship being a bit tension-heavy which I think sometimes colored her perception of me and my performance. I left that job about a year ago and she’s on her third new admin since I left (the first two got fired). She’s recently reached out to me to apologize for not appreciating me as much as she should have while I worked there. She said she had no idea just how much I did and kept track of in order to keep the organization running smoothly.

          Being good at a lot of jobs is usually something very visible. You’ve created an awesome product or you’ve made a huge sale or you’ve done a really cool presentation, whatever. Being a good admin is usually invisible.

  25. Heynonniemouse*


    Contrary to some other posters I do think it’s worth making the correction, even if you’re doing something like speaking to a patient’s relative one time. Yes, you might briefly embarrass them, but you’re also saving them from later conversations where they say that they spoke to Fred’s doctor and she said X, and then the person that they’re speaking to says, no Fred’s doctor is definitely a man, I’ve met him, you must have spoken to someone else, and confusion reigns. Having been a patient’s relative desperately trying to keep track of all the personnel and medical information flying at me, you’re doing them a favour with the correction.

  26. anon for this!*

    Oh god, OP #3, did you interview at my company? That seriously sounds *just* like the last round of interviews I attempted to conduct.

    I tried to do the first round of interviews as phone screens? The CEO yelled at me for not doing ‘screening’ over email so that everything was in writing for her to review.

    I tried to pull people in for short first interviews in person with only myself, their would-be direct boss? My boss pulled me aside after I conducted the first one and told me I was wasting my own and other people’s time if I didn’t conduct each interview with a panel consisting of me, him, head of HR, and the CEO, “so we can get a wide range of impressions without doing dozens of interviews”.

    I described the job to the candidates? The CEO overrode me and began to launch into some new responsibilities and tasks that she was hoping to add to the position and hadn’t discussed with me beforehand.

    I’m on my way out of this awful (family-owned! haha) business, btw. This is how management in every part of the company works. It’s awful.

  27. Just Jess*


    Since a lot of flags are pointing to a dysfunctional organization, it would probably be better to go with “When we talked, it seemed like Jane and Bob had different perspectives on how they each saw the role. Is there more internal alignment about that now?” This calls out the specific issue(s) without letting them repeat an incomplete or inaccurate story.

    There is a high risk that saying “It sounded from our last conversation like there are a few different visions for the job. Could we talk in a little more detail about exactly what this role will be responsible for and how its success will be measured?” to one person (recruiter/admin, hiring manager, director) will lead them to think that you are difficult, need things explained multiple times, or are unable to retain and digest simple information. Dysfunctional organizations are very good at making it seem like their employees and applicants are the problem.

  28. LQ*

    #1 We have someone who does a lot of admin work and she is like magic to me. You ask for something and it just shows up, even when you don’t even know if it’s possible to get. And sometimes around here that means spending hours negotiating with companies (which is also a magic skill to me). But the biggest moment I’ve experienced was when I had to travel for work. 3 from the department I’m in, who have a magician, and 3 from another department who don’t. The 3 from our department plus magician spent (I asked later) about 4 hours total in all the paperwork around it. The 3 in the other department? About 40 hours each. (plus their rooms and flights got messed up, ours were great) And she will tell you over and over that it’s just her job. But her job saved our department well over 100 hours of wasted time. That’s huge! And that was just time. You’re dealing with safety!

  29. AnonInfinity*

    Re: OP #1 – As a former admin, I don’t think infantilizing, effusive praise for admin work is necessarily always directly related to appreciation. I really don’t. Rather, I think it’s how non-admin folk who appreciate the admin as an individual respond to the ingrained, pervasive idea that admins are below low on the ladder. (Below low on the ladder = when an 15-hour-a-week intern comes in and gets a closed-door shared office, while the admin sits in an open-concept reception area and is constantly disturbed and interrupted, including by the intern; or when a junior-level staffer comes in with privileges to assign work and deadlines to an admin with 10 years of experience on the job.) It’s also how they respond to the pervasive idea that admins do menial, non-skilled work for people with better things to be doing than whatever the admin does. Basically, they want to express that they don’t see the individual as menial, unskilled, or low on the rung, but, by so effusively protesting too much, they’re not expressing appreciation so much as reinforcing the idea that the admin is (1) separate from the team; (2) should be insecure about his/her role; and (3) needs reminded that they’re a real person with a real job too and oh thanks sooooo much for changing that minor spacing on that flyer what could I evvvvvverrrrr do without you?! *embedded image of a huge gold star* (Ask. Me. How. I. Know.)

    I went from receptionist/secretary, to admin assistant, to program director with a change in classification from Staff to Something Else, and the comments from the most supportive people of that change, who had always been very supportive of me in my admin roles, were along the lines of, “I can’t believe you went from secretary to Program Director in X years!” or “You were always so above that kind of work.” They meant well. It was demeaning and insulting, and it reinforced for me the idea that, while they may have always respected ME as an individual, they never respected my admin work. And that’s the difference between genuine appreciation for an admin doing great admin work and coworkers who protest too much with effusive praise for the admin. And, no, you can’t change it.

    Just my experience and take on it.

    1. LibraryBug*

      You know, your comment has really nailed down why I always felt so weird when people would go out of their way to tell me how *important* admins were. While I am no longer a receptionist or office manager, I’ve gotten different versions of this while I was. I could understand and accept the people who were blown away that I was competent after having an admin that wasn’t. But the constant “Oh I work with this admin and she’s _____.” The blank was always something really vague about how important she was (and it was always a she). This was from people who were not the admin’s supervisors but just people that worked around her. If you all think I’m so important and invaluable and amazing, then maybe pay me more? The fawning really seemed like lip-service while not really believing it.

      It’s the same kind of rah-rah that goes around as a non-librarian library worker. We’re “soo important,” “the backbone of the library,” etc. but that doesn’t translate into real respect, better wages, or being treated like a peer.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I think people only tell people their job is “soo important” when they secretly (or unconsciously) don’t think it is.

        1. Lindsay J*


          Nobody tells, I don’t know, the engineer working on a $100 million dollar project that her role is “so important”. That’s a given. Nobody tells the CEO his job is so important. That’s a given.

          The only time I have been told that my job was important was when I was expected to work ridiculous schedules for subpar pay. And it almost seemed like it was an attempt to guilt me into not feeling like I was getting the shit end of the stick. Like I couldn’t even be resentful that I had to work on Thanksgiving while all the higher-ups were at home with their families, because the work I was doing was “important” to my boss and the company.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Well, I’ve worked on $4 billion dollar projects and no one ever told me my work was important. They did remind me (once) that it was critical I do my job or else we wouldn’t get paid. And I received a single verbal “well done” at the end of the review. I’ve had to work Christmas, 4th of July, etc too.
            I think sometimes people think that other jobs don’t have that kind of crap going on. Let me assure you, they do.

      2. Alice*

        How are the people who are not the admin’s supervisor going to be able to pay her more?

        1. AnonInfinity*

          By going to the boss, either in an email or in person, and saying, “My coworker, who is the admin, is responsive, efficient, and a pleasure to work with. She has accomplished X, Y, and Z in the past six months, which resulted in A, B, and C – and that’s just for me. I know she has done much more for others on the team. I wanted you to know how appreciated she is, and what kind of quality work she is doing for our business.”

          That’s how I got mine (mostly).

      3. Engineer Girl*

        I see a false equivalency here. “Important” and “easy to replace” are separate. Lots of things are important, but many people can do them. So because of market forces the pay is low. That doesn’t mean those jobs are unnecessary.

        Admins are important. They are also gatekeepers for information. A bad admin can really muck up the works. That said, it’s fairly easy to get a mediocre admin (Vs a really great one) so wages stay low.

        Those that aren’t in the chain of command have limited ability to change the pay of the admin (other than email the boss). So they try to make it up in other ways. That’s not necessarily wrong.

        1. AnonInfinity*

          With regards to your last paragraph – why? Why would a coworker think, “I can’t affect the Admin’s pay, so I’ll do other things to make up for that”? And why would that be okay? Would a coworker think, “I can’t affect the Teapot Designer’s pay, so I’ll do other things to make up for that”? Not generally, right? (Can you imagine that letter to AAM and the subsequent comments!)

          It intrigues me that so many, in general, feel the urge and need to put on special gloves when directly working with admins vs. other coworkers. To me, if you wouldn’t slather Teapot Designer with praise every time Designer sends you a requested report, then why would you slather Admin with praise every time Admin reserves a room for you? Is it really because everyone knows the admin isn’t paid well? Or could it be because the person receiving the service doesn’t respect the Admin’s work and thinks Admin needs extra emotional support and encouragement when doing that work? (That’s my pet theory, and it’s held up really well at my organization. As always, YMMV.) IMO, the good intention of trying to give a value-added boost and a leg-up to the admin typically only serves to reinforce and highlight that admins are frequently treated as if they’re simultaneously something more and less than a coworker who does work that is simultaneously more important and less important than all other organizational work.

          This is a really interesting area of discussion for me, having pretty much seen this work from both sides, so please know that I mean to explore this issue rather than be contrary with you (or anyone else) about it. :)

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Maybe I give what I would like? Maybe I don’t get praise because people assume a higher salary is enough?

            I think people need both. But If I don’t have the ability to give one at least I can give the other.

            And in case you’re wondering, I try to praise my coworkers too when there is a job well done. Write emails to the boss etc. I do that to anyone that makes my job easier.

  30. Nonnynon*

    #1. I have worked with a lot of law enforcement (swat) and fire departments in the past and it may be that because behind the scenes people never really get noticed, especially when compared to them, so they may be trying to make up for it. Little story, I was talking with a tech rescue crew (fire) and one of the new guys was complaint about admin staff …they have such an easy job, what do they do so day, etc… His captain looked at him for a moment, told him to “stop being a jerk, and that those people are the ones who deal with everyone complaining about their bills and service, makes sure they have all the equipment they need, things get fixed, and most of all, that they get paid. Admin staff is pretty damn important if he wanted to continue paying for his brand new $60000 truck.” His language may have been a tad more R rated.

  31. atma*

    OP 1 – When I get complimented or thanked for things I can do in my sleep, if I have a good relationship I have some success saying (with a genuine smile) Oh, but that’s like thanking me for not falling out of my chair! No, really!

  32. Erika22*

    1: At my old job, I was constantly praised for things that really didn’t deserve praise, and at first it felt really patronizing. It was also my first office job, so I wasn’t sure how if maybe everyone was just super relieved I was capable of average office tasks and didn’t need hand holding as a new grad. Fast forward three years, and I still got praised for even small things, but I learned it came from a combination of: company culture, ensuring I felt appreciated, and the fact that to some people, the things I did WERE “amazing” (mostly computer-related things). I was also able to see over time that sometimes the effusive thanks wasn’t necessarily because I did something amazing, but just because my supervisor was grateful to have any help at all during a stressful time; it was more like a “thank you for being here and supporting me” rather than “it’s actually amazing that you proofread that report for me a caught a typo.” If the praise is coming from a place of sincerity, I say just accept it! If you do realize there’s a gendered tilt to the praise or something that makes it less genuine, then you could bring it up. I’m still super grateful I worked with such a kind and caring group of people for my first office job who truly made you feel appreciated – looking back it really did wonders to mitigate the “I’m just an admin” mentality and reminded me that my work, while not saving the world, did help my workplace run smoothly so others could do their jobs easier.

  33. Michael Mouse*

    #2, I am a trans man who looks completely male in person, I wrote in to AAM with a similar question a few years ago. I think Alison’s advice above is good. I suggest experimenting with a few different approaches to giving the correction and deflecting the awkwardness, so that you settle on one that feels right for you that you can deliver confidently when needed. For example, “Oh, I’m a man, but I know I have a musical voice, not a problem,” or “It’s sir actually, no problem, happens all the time.” Basically just finding the variation on the basic script that feels comfortable to you. Once I felt confident with my personal ‘script’, the situation stopped being stressful for me.

    1. Alton*

      Yeah, it can be tough, because once someone gets an impression of what they think your assigned gender is, that impression can override other cues that indicate your gender (like your name).

      I’m still trying to think of some cues that would work well for me. I’m non-binary, and my problem has been more that I’ll have people assume I’m male based on my name. But then when they hear me on the phone, they’ll read me as female and will either be noticeably awkward or will correct themselves (“Oh, I thought you were a man!”). There’s not a lot I can really do when they just stumble a little, but it’s hard to correct them when they correct themselves. A few years ago, I was presenting as male more, and I found that if I did say that I was a guy, sometimes people would still sound confused.

    2. namenamename*

      I’m also a trans man and have had bad experiences specifically trying to correct someone who calls me “ma’am.” “No, it’s actually sir” can have a complicated social meaning – especially when I’m not talking to another white guy. This is even with the “don’t worry, it happens all the time” disclaimers. So one also needs to be careful that one’s confidence doesn’t put people off. The best solution for me was to get a job where I wasn’t talking on the phone all day – and to wait a few years longer for my voice to deepen more.

  34. Jen*

    In the response to #1, maybe change this sentence to be non-gendered: “The other possibility is that you replaced someone incompetent, and your colleagues are genuinely overwhelmed with pleasure and gratitude at the contrast of your work with hers.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I default to “she” and “her” for every generic pronoun here where someone’s gender is unknown, and always have — largely because I want people to picture female bosses and to replace the default “he.” It’s not specific to admin work.

  35. Tangerina*

    I tend to overly thank my admin staff because some of the people here are so crappy to them. Thanks to letter #1, I’ll monitor to make sure it’s not coming across as patronizing.

  36. Peaches*

    #1 – I totally get this! I work in sales support and one of our sales representatives who I work with closely CONSTANTLY thanks me excessively. It feels patronizing. Every task I do for here she says “Oh! You’re SO smart. You are just so smart.” Sometimes it’s things as small as cleaning up a document in excel and printing it, something that takes 5 minutes. I try not to take it too personally, though as I’ve seen this same person treat her own customers that way. I once led a training session with her for a group of about 20 employees at a customer of hers’ office. At the end of the training, the employees took a short quiz over what we’d taught. When the sales rep went through the questions at the end, every time the group of employees would shout out the correct answer, she would say “Well, aren’t you all impressive! You are all so, so smart! Look at you guys, getting all these questions right!” She said it in a voice that you’d use on elementary-aged students. These were full grown adults. I could just tell by the looks on the employees’ faces that they were irritated at her tone.

  37. Ali G*

    For #1, I wonder if salary is at play here? Like, if I were doing my job well, but I felt I was underpaid, and people kept giving effusive praise for doing my job, I would be bitter about it. The praise would become very grating because I would feel like yelling: “well if I am so damn great, why don’t you pay me more!!!???”
    Maybe I’m off base, but praise is hollow if it isn’t backed up by being paid what you are being told you are worth.

  38. ABK*

    #2: I”m a woman married to a woman and people usually assume husband. I either try to bring it up first, “my wife and I have a joint credit card account”, or correct them very matter of factly, “actually, my wife is the account holder, her name is Sandy and DOB is …”. It’s annoying but only as awkward as I let it be. As a side note, it’s might be eye opening for you experience the awkwardness that a lot of people experience daily when society makes wrong assumptions.

  39. BillieB*

    #3 – Just throwing in a little different perspective, but since I don’t know much about your situation, it’s possible my perspective doesn’t apply. But worth throwing it out there anyway. I work for a tech startup, and coming from a big, bureaucratic corporation, the interview process was really fast for me too. Also, the role was not clearly defined as I’m the first person hired for it. No dysfunction or red flags here. It’s just the nature of a startup, I believe. Our goal is simple – grow the business. There is a lot of figuring things out as we go and being open to changing direction an initiative isn’t working.

    Are you a person who needs clear guidelines and expectations to perform your job well? Or are you one who thrives on some ambiguity? I consider myself the latter. I love to get creative and have the opportunity to test out some new ideas in my work. And I also need a certain level of autonomy or I feel stifled. However, my spouse is the former. He was the first hired in a position, but his company didn’t really know what to do with his role or how to give him any guidance. As a result, he was miserable in that job.

    1. LW 3*

      Thanks, I appreciate your take on this! To clarify, this employer is not a start up of any kind, it’s a very well-established organization. My concern isn’t about the role being ambiguous. In fact, I think the expectations they discussed in the interview were very specific. My concern is that the job duties they described in the interview were far different from what was described in the announcement. I’m not averse to a somewhat unclear host of responsibilities (I’ve worked in a number of small offices and am pretty happy to try new things), but I’m worried about stepping into a role that is advertised as A when they actually want B. Especially because I don’t have much experience with B and was looking for a job focused on A.

      1. BillieB*

        That makes sense. Hopefully, you’re not having to take a job where you’re set up to fail. If you do have to take the job, and I totally understand where you’re coming from, this is probably a situation requiring you to be pretty assertive. Even if an offer is made, you still have the opportunity to ask more questions about their expectations. The job interview process should be a two-way street. You’re also considering whether or not it is a good fit for you, and a good hiring manager will respect that. At least if you end up having the take a job that is less than ideal, you can do so with eyes wide open. And who knows, you could be surprised. It may be the foot in the door you need to move into a better role with the company, or you may end up really enjoying something different.

  40. Accountant*

    #1 I worked with an amazing admin and I bet I probably did this to her all the time! I was never trying to be condescending to her and I definitely never thought of her work as less important than mine. Quite the contrary she was very competent and professional. It was more of, there is no way I could do my job without this amazing woman that knows where everything is and seems to have all the answers.

  41. ZieZieZie*

    Removed because it’s off-topic. Feel free to post it in the open thread or email it me.

  42. K*

    For the last question – I was in the same situation and was very up front with my former employer on my need to secure a position sooner than later while also indicating how much I hoped it would work out with them. I kept them updated on the status of other possible positions. I think the real threat of my continuing to look for other opportunities actually helped them speed up the internal process (it was establishing a new position) and I ended up getting an offer two months faster than originally estimated. Results may vary but you might get some added leverage too!

  43. Michaela Westen*

    #3: Not a good job but if you *have* to take it, try to get the job requirements in writing. If they’re as much of a mess as they sound it might not help while you’re there, but it could help if you need unemployment comp later.

  44. Skylight*

    #1: I would like to hear from admins and support staff. What would you prefer to over-thanking? Would admins prefer that co-workers take the praise to someone else? Would an email to their bosses stating specific examples of great work that could be used in a yearly evaluation be better? Or help admins get additional training or perks that would make their jobs easier?

    So much of this is cultural. I just came back from a year in another country where thanking for basic job functions can come across as insulting because it implies that the person has to make an effort to do their job correctly. Instead it’s better just to be polite and respectful all the time (and patient when they are busy).

    Maybe a better way, instead of saying ‘thank you,’ is expressing appreciation and how it helped. If it’s a special, bigger item then ‘I appreciate your work on X because Y. Or, if the admin is generally all-around competent, periodically “I appreciate you.” It would be weird to express appreciation for every print out or mailed letter so that’s a good rule of thumb to avoid being condescending, even if the last person in the job was incompetent.

    And, don’t overcompensate for the a-holes at your workplace. Your intentions may be noble, but you risk undermining the admins’ dignity instead.

    1. AnonInfinity*

      Here is what I wrote above, as a former secretary and admin assistant:

      “My old boss was great about saying a simple “thanks” in the moment and then pulling me in every few months for a few minutes to really say a heartfelt “thank you, you saved my life a few times, you’re easy to work with, you just get stuff done, and I appreciate you being here. How are you doing? What do you need?” That was fantastic, respectful, and how you treat someone like a coworker with a professional job rather than a person in the office who has a collection of favors to complete.”

      Admins are not “others.” We’re employees with a job. We don’t need special praise or treats or supercharged motivational strategies to feel important and valued (IMO). Treat us like you treat everyone else. That’s what I wanted as an admin. I rarely ever got it, except from that one boss.

      1. LibraryBug*

        Agreed. Meeting regularly to discuss what’s working, what isn’t, and expressing that your employee is performing above-and-beyond expectations is great. If I did a task that was out of the norm, or really efficient, or whatever other compliment you have, tell my boss. Sure, thank me but think about phrasing it to me the same way you would phrase it if you did tell my boss. None of that “Oh my gosh, thank you so much for arranging that meeting. You do some sort of magic with that Outlook calendar. What would we do without you?” nonsense.

        Fawning over someone for doing their job is weird. Treat your admins like they’re competent peers. I didn’t go around telling the people I supported that they were “rockstars” or doing “magic” for doing their jobs.

  45. Megan*

    I think it may be important for LW2 to correct people in some situations. If my husband relayed information he got from my doctor or one of our pediatricians on the phone but indicated that it was a man he had spoken to, I would be mystified because none of the above are men and then I really wouldn’t know who the heck he talked to or what to do with the info. Unless I remembered that dr so and so has a deep voice that could lead to her being misgendered on the phone, I would probably be calling the office to make sure I had the right info.

  46. Chaordic One*

    Back at Dysfunctional Teapots, Ltd. we would go through bouts of excessive thanking. The bouts were usually preceded by a meeting of the managers. (Obviously, the big bosses were influential in instigating these bouts.) It came across as being mildly annoying and a bit insincere. Most of the time the specific things they were thanking us for happened long ago, and we were so busy with putting out new fires.

  47. No Real Name*

    Re: doc. When you introduce yourself on the phone, would using your full name help? “Hi, I’m Dr. Steven Jones” instead of, “Hi, I’m Dr. Jones.” Maybe not, I’m not sure how the phone conversations go, but figured it would be worth mentioning.

  48. MissPettyAndVindictive*

    OP #1 – I’m an admin, and I replaced a very, very poor admin four years back. They were so terrible that I am still finding mistakes they made. And all the time, one of the team I admin for reminds me how much better I am than the previous admin. Like, he makes sure to remind my boss at performance review time, just to make sure they know I am great. He writes it in Christmas cards – FOUR YEARS ON! Like, dude, I get it, your last admin was pretty awful at their job. But you’ve had me for four years. It’s time to let it go!

  49. Grumpy Catmin*

    #1- I agree with everything the admins have said about why overthanking is patronizing, and I would also like to add another nuance to the “Don’t thank me for doing my job” line of thought. At the risk of sounding like (and possibly-to-probably being) a grump, I kind of don’t care if you appreciate my help. I did the thing because it is required, and because I’m being paid. Too many thanks make it sound like a favor from me to you, which it is not, and I wouldn’t have done it if I wasn’t being paid to do it. To me, when you overthank it adds a sort of friendship/intimacy to our relationship that I really don’t want to be there. Save the thanks for people who do you real favors out of the goodness of their hearts!

Comments are closed.