will my employee be demoralized by a coworker’s promotion?

A reader writes:

I’m newly the manager of a small group of three people. One of my first acts will be to promote someone in our group-let’s call her Sarah- who is overdue for recognition of the truly outstanding work she does for our organization. One of my other reports, Dian, currently shares the same title as Sarah, and has been at the company far longer, but won’t be receiving a promotion now (or at any point, unless her contributions change considerably.) Diane does a lot that’s great but only in particular areas-she is inconsistent and at times incompetent at others. Nonetheless, she is valued for the number of things she does do very well.

What is the proper etiquette in this situation? Should managers tell other reports that one of their colleagues will be receiving a promotion before the announcement goes out company-wide? I anticipate that Diane will feel demoralized at this news, something that I’d like to address if I can because one of the things that hinders her work is a recurring sense of discouragement and disengagement when things don’t go well. Should I tell her in a matter-of-fact way about Sarah before she hears along with everyone else? If I think she has mixed feelings about it, should I find a tactful way to raise that with her? Or should I just be business-as-usual and stop trying to anticipate possible reactions?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Will connecting on LinkedIn make my staff realize how young I am?
  • Applications that want me to share something unique about myself
  • Our intern sounds unprofessional

{ 139 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie McG*

    OP#1 I would not tell Diane ahead of time about the other person’s promotion. If you do, you are sending the message that “I wanted to let you know privately ahead of time because I thought you might be upset” which will actually send the message “maybe this is something you *should* be upset about.” Why plant that seed? Model the behavior you want to see. If this is a matter-of-fact decision based on work performance, treat it that way and announce the decision the way you would any other. Later if Diane is upset, then you address it with the reasons why Sarah got the promotion and what Diane needs to do to also earn a promotion. But lets see if Diane can handle it on her own first. Separately, you need to be addressing those issues with Diane’s performance.

    1. Whiskers*

      I think OP should use her best judgement with Diane. It sounds to me like Diane should probably be told separately.

      One of the best things one of my exBoss would do is provide this kind of personal “heads up” on org announcements before it went out to the rest of the org. It made me feel included and as part of her team…like I was a person, not a robot, who shouldn’t have feelings. It also allowed me to ask any clarifying questions directly, without having days until our next 1:1 to think about it and get pulled into all of the office gossip.

      IMO there’s nothing worse than finding out about an org change in your own department from someone in passing in an elevator, just because that random person read the e-mail before you did.

      1. Ali G*

        Since there are other people on the team besides Sarah and Diane, I think the LW should tell the entire team as a group. That way everyone on the team is being treated equal to the news and then you don’t risk Diane finding out via mass email instead.

        1. Luna*

          Yes, this. It doesn’t single out Diane but still lets her (and other team members know). Regardless of the situation and my own feelings, I personally would find it weird to find out about a change on my own team from some mass company-wide email blast.

        2. Madeleine Matilda*

          I agree that OP should tell her team before a company wide announcement goes out. She can frame it as a positive thing for Sarah and a moment for the team to support one of their own. As for Diane, as her manager, OP should be giving her regular feedback anyway so Diane is aware of areas where she can improve and grow.

        3. Tangerina*

          +1 For one, I always think telling the team news that affects them before telling everyone else is good. And at least Diane is being told in a group rather than just finding out at an inopportune time. Maybe it’s good for the manager to block her calendar immediately after the team conversation in case it seems like Diane needs to talk.

        4. LuckySophia*

          Seconding “inform the team first” before a wider email announcement is made. As Madeline Matilda commented below: “frame it as a positive thing for Sarah and a moment for the team to support one of their own.”

          At that point, the LW could add something like, “I know we’re all happy to see Sarah’s achievements recognized, and I’m sure each of you is thinking about when, or how, you could earn that type of recognition for yourself. So I’d like to meet with each of you one-on-one in the [next 2 weeks] and talk more about the areas where each of you excel, and areas to develop further, that would make you candidates for future promotions as well.”

          Something like that would give a “natural” opening for discussion with Diane, without singling her out as the ONE who has FEELINGS about being passed over,

        5. TootsNYC*

          I like the idea of telling the group first somehow. Maybe emailing them all and saying, “Please keep this under your hat for about half an hour; the news is going out company wide, but since its our team, I wanted you to know first.”

          Then let Diane deal with it–or come to you, etc.

      2. BRR*

        I also think the OP needs to use her best judgement. I can really see this going either way. If Diane has been asking about a promotion then I would probably tell her ahead of time.

        I’ve also appreciated being given a heads up about this type of thing.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          If this is Diane’s first notification that she won’t be getting a promotion, I’d tell her that before announcing Sarah’s promotion to the group.

        2. Thor*

          I agree. If I was in Diane’s situation I would consider it a kindness to be told separately. That news can be really surprising and demoralizing. The other thing to think about is that other people are going to know that she’s been there longer also, she may be feeling (rightly or wrongly) that people are looking to see what her reaction to the news is.

          1. Kathlynn*

            Me too. At my current job, a shitty coworker was recently promoted. I over heard my boss tell another coworker about it, and I would have been losing my shit mentally if I had found out in the staff meeting where she told everyone about it. (the guy should not be working at our store. the list of reasons why is long. But the biggest is that he doesn’t cooperate with coworkers, and will ignore customers. that and my first manager should have investigated the sexual assault allegation against him rather then just ignoring it)

        3. PersonalJeebus*

          Yeah, if Diane has asked about being promoted, or if Diane has good reason to think the OP is aware she would like a promotion, she won’t appreciate the OP pretending not to know this is partially disappointing news.

          Also agree with other commenters that whether or not Diane gets a private heads-up beforehand, there should be a smaller announcement to OP’s team with an unequivocally positive tone — “let’s support Sarah, this is great news for her!”

          And why not take the opportunity to include some praise of Diane’s strengths along with the constructive feedback about what she needs to do better? Someone who is easily disengaged and demoralized will be better able to run with constructive criticism if they also know their good points are being recognized.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        I agree. I would tell Diane and the other person on the team before an organization-wide announcement goes out.

      4. Laura*

        Perhaps it’s because of past experiences but I wonder if this promotion is based on management wanting to promote someone younger who they deem the management type? I’ve seen way too many promotions based on the who the person knows instead of talent.

        So if this is the case, or the older passed over employee is going to feel that way, then yes, for sure have a private conversation. Be ready to have some very concrete examples of differences in work. If after some honest self reflection, you realize the older worker is better or your many people think so, realize this promotion will destroy any culture and teamwork.

    2. TootsNYC*

      YES!!! I came to say this, and thank you, Katie McG, for writing it out so I don’t have to.

      I had a boss call me in to tell me that my subordinate had been promoted while I was on vacation (She’d gotten a new job, and the promotion was a way to keep her).

      The FIRST thing my boss said to me was, “I want you to be happy about this.”

      If she hadn’t said that (and if she hadn’t “hid” the promotion by not emailing me anything about it or speaking to me on my first day back), I would have been.

      But all it did was say to me, “She thinks I will NOT be happy about this, and I’m not generally known as a jerk, so SHE thinks it’s reasonable for me to see this as a move that threatens me somehow.”

  2. Pollygrammer*

    #4–I really wish somebody had given me advice on sounding professional when I was younger. Even in school, even when we were specifically practicing public speaking, nobody ever pointed out things like uptalk, saying “like” and dropping my Gs. (The last one, I know, can be kind of a minefield). It took a long time to realize that I needed to moderate how I spoke, and then I had to learn through observation.

    It will probably be a tough conversation, but it might end up being the most valuable thing she takes away from the internship.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I recall an anecdote from someone on here about a class in public speaking, where they watched themselves on videotape–the only class member who had a good idea what he sounded like was the one who was a professional actor. This isn’t something the intern is likely to have noticed about herself–she’s just, like, talking, and this is… ummm… how it comes out. Pointing it out would be right in line with helping her develop the skills she will need in social work. (Even if she winds up working with a different group, such as children, her clients are going to want her to sound confident and capable and like she knows what she’s doing, qualities not associated with uptalk.)

    2. Elemeno P.*

      It might also be worth it to talk to her about code-switching. My accent sounds somewhat similar to the intern’s (mostly uptalk, and I used to “um” and giggle when nervous), especially when I’m on the phone. I know how to tone it down to be taken seriously, and I know how to play it up when it’s to my advantage. It’s not that her manner of speaking is wrong overall, but it’s wrong for the situation.

      1. Pollygrammer*

        Good point! I tend to (mostly unconsciously) play up my country accent when I want to seem approachable or reassuring.

        1. krysb*

          I’m do the same. When I’m being professional or what to be seen in a certain way, I pull out my “I was raised by Midwesterners” accent. When I want to be approachable, I go country. It’s pretty helpful to be able to hit both tones.

      2. Hey Nonnie*

        I was going to mention this as well — let her know that code-switching is a thing, and that everyone does it, with one “code” they use for work, another they use with friends, and still another with mom & dad. And this isn’t being fake, it’s adjusting to the tone of the room.

        It’s easier to hear this in yourself once it’s pointed out as a real phenomenon. I think it will also head off any possible defensiveness stemming from her feeling criticized for simply being herself. Once you point out that she already has many “selves,” cultivating a “professional self” won’t seem so much like being condescended to, or being forced into an ill-fitting box.

      3. ThatAspie*

        At my job, I have many different ways of communicating, and while there are similarities among my “codes”, it is quite different between, say, talking to the 5-year-old Birthday girl and talking to her
        100-year-old Grandma, or between talking to the 10-year-old boy trying to climb a wall and his 2-year-old sister who is trying to take my equipment. I’d go into more detail, but with the nature of my work, considering how many things are specific to our restaurant chain, I might share TMI about something.

    3. Fern*

      Saying ‘like’ is always a work in progress for me. I don’t know how to fully drop it!

  3. SansaStark*

    I almost though that #1 was written by my manager except that she is not new to the team. I’m the Sarah in my situation and the announcement will be made very soon. I’m *so* excited but also really dreading some of the fall-out from Diane. I’m concerned about walking this same tight-rope – not treating her like she should be upset/will treat me any differently, but also recognizing that she will be probably be disappointed. It’s the only damper on this great opportunity.

      1. SansaStark*

        That’s a good point – thanks :) I’ve worked *so* hard pursuing all kinds of professional development over the past couple years to grow in my industry, so I think I’ve been pretty visibly working towards a promotion and she just….hasn’t. But still gets disappointed when she doesn’t receive one. It’s a weird dynamic.

        1. Fern*

          You work hard and you get a reward. It’s nice to be concerned about the fallout but now you are number 1! Well done on your promotion.

        2. MLB*

          I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t let her being down affect your great news. Obviously don’t brag about it, but hold your head high and be proud. You can’t control how others react, and you don’t deserve for her reaction to take away some of your happiness.

    1. Bea*

      She is in charge of her emotions. It’s hard but remind yourself that you earned this and her being hurt isn’t something YOU caused. I’m sure it’s difficult for people to see others succeed while you struggle along but you aren’t the one to shoulder any of that pain. Your achievements are great and you should celebrate them not feel like you need to keep them tucked safely out of Salty Sally’s view because of the fragility of her dented ego.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. It sounds like this job isn’t a good fit for Diane. The best possible outcome would be that she gets upset enough to move on!

      2. TootsNYC*

        It’s also disrespectful to try to manage other people’s emotions for them.

        Let her have her emotions. Only react to any actual behavior you get from her, and don’t address the MOTIVE for that behavior. (That’s infuriating to be on the receiving end of, and you might be wrong anyway.)

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      Own it!

      It’s not on you to manage Diane’s reaction. It’s on you to keep doing the amazing work that earned you the promotion in the first place. If Diane is upset, tell her that it’s something to take up with your manager and not you – then keep on achieving.

      Congratulations on the promotion :)

    3. Ali G*

      I was Sarah once too and it did feel pretty bad. Mostly because I knew that the “Diane” in my case saw himself as the eventual person in the position I got promoted into. I felt bad, but he couldn’t understand that he didn’t have the background and experience to actually fulfill the position.
      Unfortunately, he did end up bitter and ended up leaving. It was too bad because I really liked working with him (he did not report to me even after my promotion – I had my own team), but he couldn’t get over it.
      I’m glad the LW is asking for advice and I hope she uses Alison’s advice to focus on what Diane can do to get herself promoted. I am 99% sure our boss did not do that in my case and contributed to his bitterness. If he had been shown his own growth path, that would have helped a lot.

      1. Sable*

        I’m sure at one stage or another most working people have been wrongly overlooked (don’t get me started on my list!). But I think eventually something great such a promotion does happen if you are positive in the workplace.

    4. BRR*

      I’m in a sort of similar situation except I’m more the Diane (except my work is good, just a very delayed promotion). I originally typed out the whole story but the tl;dr is that you don’t need to worry about it. If Diane is upset, then that’s between Diane and your manager. Obviously you don’t go rubbing it in her face but being more the Diane in this situation, I don’t expect my coworkers (who have been promoted or otherwise) to recognize my disappointment.

    5. Jane*

      I hear ya. Last year this very same thing happened to me. I received a promotion. It was my second promotion in 5 years at this organization. Someone who initially started out as a friend and was an equal to me on the org chart has been trying to get a promotion for that long but has been turned down. We don’t do the same job so it wasn’t a direct competition thing but she was pretty annoyed about it. I actually gave her a heads up myself before they did the departmental announcement. She initially was polite and then a day or so later came into my office and cried for 20 minutes about how it wasn’t fair that I got this job. She even said “it’s not like I even want this job that you have because honestly that job sounds terrible. It’s just not fair that I can’t get promoted.” Um, thanks? I listened to a bit of the rant and then tried to offer some ideas “What if you asked if you could take on this extra project? What if you volunteered for this?” and she turned down all of the suggestions. Finally I made up a meeting I had to go to so she would leave my office and I went for a little walk to shake it off.

      That work friendship is now pretty much dead. She’s just been pretty terrible to me and this is where I blame her manager because it’s pretty obvious and he lets her be like this. So that’s my advice to you – as a manager, be very aware of her attitude and shut it down if she starts getting really petty.

      1. PersonalJeebus*

        Ugh. She probably wanted you (or wants someone) to say that it IS unfair that she hasn’t been promoted, and they’re sorry it’s been so hard for her. But of course you can’t say that if she hasn’t truly earned the promotion she wants. It’s hard to know from your comment that she doesn’t deserve it, because lots of people turn down constructive advice when all they want to hear is sympathy/validation. But it’s not a good sign that she dismissed your suggestions, and you can’t tell her what she wants to hear if it isn’t true.

        1. Jane*

          Deserve is a hard one to say. I mean, who really deserves anything and what’s that saying? “Fair is the thing with cotton candy” – so I get the initial “It’s not FAIR!” feeling and I feel that too. I mean, hell, the week I moved out of my house due to an impending divorce another friend moved into a huge house with a pool. I had a little bit of the “I deserve a nice house! It’s not fair!” kind of feeling too. It’s only natural. But you can’t take that feeling to the person who’s celebrating. Take it to an impartial third party. Vent to them.

          And then do something about it. So I get the initial feeling of unfairness and that initial gut reaction is completely normal. But then you got to put on your big girl panties and figure out how to get where you want to go.

    6. Nita*

      Ha! I thought my boss could have written this too! I’m the Diane here, and you know what… I know it. I know why I’m not getting promoted, it’s all fair, so I’m not going to get upset about it. I’ve just stacked my priorities differently and decided that the payoff for putting in extra hours isn’t worth it to me, and that while I’ve had to conquer some of my limitations to succeed, beating down the rest to become less of a worker bee and more of a leader is not worth what it will do to my stress level (and what’s left of me emotionally by the time I get home).

      1. Clever Alias*

        +1 to Nita. There is nothing wrong with climbing just high enough to be happy. I’ve been promoted five times in my ten year career within the same organization. I was once *super ambitious.* Now I’m a good worker — but also happy to leave the bull to my boss and go home at 5 to my family.

        1. Marion Ravenwood*

          ‘There is nothing wrong with climbing just high enough to be happy.’

          I might have to steal that. I’ve always felt guilty about not being super-ambitious – don’t get me wrong, I want to do well at work, but I don’t want to be anyone’s boss or working crazy-long hours – and just wanting enough to be comfortable, but increasingly I’m coming to realise that I don’t have to be a Big Boss if I don’t want to.

    7. Diane for Now*

      Another person chiming in as the Diane to a Sarah (who is a very dear friend, too): If she is a decent person, she will be happy for you despite her disappointment, if she’s not, that’s on her. As much as it pains me to admit it, I don’t deserve the promotion my Sarah got and that’s not her fault. In fact, it was her promotion and realizing the type of performance that is rewarded in my company that has spurred on my current job search and there are STILL no hard feelings towards her. She deserved it and I know it’s not a level I will reach in this role, so it’s time for me to find something where I can be my own Sarah :) . It is not your fault your Diane isn’t getting a promotion, don’t let anyone make you feel that way. The Sarah’s of the world are inspiring!

    8. Tangerina*

      I was Sarah once… and the manager wasn’t brave enough to promote me because of Diane. To be fair, he had a LOT going on with that team so he had many battles he had to choose among.

      But I’m still salty about that. I ended up leaving that team shortly after because of my inability to move past the unfairness of it (which was not my most professional moment I will fully admit).

      1. Khlovia*

        Yeah, I’m with Toots. That doesn’t sound so much unprofessional as more like a cold assessment of your professional career path at that job at that time, even if you were feeling rather hot about it.

  4. Camellia*

    #3 – Sharing something unique.

    This does sound a little weird but maybe just go with it, if you are interested in the company. I am a private person and in these situations I stick to things from my past, like ‘I once worked for a nuclear astrophysicist’, or ‘As a child I read three books a week from the library’.

    My manager sometimes likes to make us play team-building games, one of which is ‘two truths and a lie’, to see how well you know your team mates. This request reminds me of those situations. Sometimes management just does dumb things, but not necessarily harmful.

    1. hayling*

      I can tell you exactly where that came from. There is an applicant tracking system called Jazz (formerly The Resumator) that was extremely popular several years ago. One of their stock questions is to ask you what makes you unique (in 140 characters or less). It’s maddening.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Ugh. There’s a song to the effect that you’re one in a million… but given that there are several billion people on Earth, eh, that doesn’t make you all that special. How can I know what makes me unique in a given group unless I am intimately familiar with everyone else? Maybe a bunch of us are quilters, or lived in Malawi, or enjoy eating mushrooms.

        Maybe treat it as the “Hobbies” section you can tack onto resumes, and share something mildly interesting about yourself, rather than unique. Either something other people might do and so common ground, or interesting as a conversation starter.

        1. PersonalJeebus*

          This is why “unique” is a terrible word to use in most contexts. It doesn’t mean what people think it means/use it to mean.

          Literally the most annoying misuse ever!

          (I also hate overuse of “literally,” maybe you can tell)

        2. TootsNYC*

          I say, don’t get hung up on the technicalities of the language. Just pick something about yourself that’s a tiny bit unusual, and use that.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      I have only been asked this once, but I’d heard it was A Thing, and the strategy I came up with was to say something that would be a good conversation starter. So what I said was that I had been a juror in a murder trial (which is true). Now, I’m not going to say that this would work with everyone (maybe they have an incarcerated brother or something), but most people do find that fairly interesting. Anyway, if I had to do this again – which no, please God – I’d do something similar, i.e., say something interesting that allows a little room for discussion without revealing anything too personal.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        I hate the two truths and a lie game. The last time I was forced to play it, I convinced the class instructor that I was the Oscar Mayer bologna kid. Even sang the song.

        The kid was a boy. I’m a woman. He believed me anyway.

    3. PersonalJeebus*

      Yeah, I’d just go with it, too! My take is that these questions (however ill-designed) are harmless and aren’t so much about the content of the answer, but the style of the answer, the voice, and what it reveals about the candidate’s character. They want to hear how you talk about yourself. They want something that will reveal your personality or your values.

      Maybe it’s not fair that personality is taken into account in hiring when performance is the most important metric. But people do like to find out ahead of time, if they can, what kind of person you are. Because they’re going to have to spend a lot of time with you.

    4. Karma*

      I do archery on the weekends and that’s an unusual enough hobby/sport in my country that I can use it for those sort of questions.

  5. Anon16*

    I have a relevant question to #1. How do you do outstanding work? I do my job but I’m not really sure how to go above and beyond. And sometimes when I do, I feel like I seem over-eager. Any advice? I hope this is the right place.

    1. AMPG*

      There’s an open thread every Friday – try posting there and you’ll probably get some helpful responses.

      1. voyager1*

        Honestly, it varies for every job and every manager. The clearest advice I can give is figure out what your manager values and do your best at making sure you do work that meets her expectation of value.

        There is no how to guide to being promoted… sorry.

    2. Bea*

      Please elaborate on why you feel over eager and why is over eager a negative?

      You step up and take duties that are left hanging. You ask for more responsibility.

      Take initiative. I bring up cost saving ideas frequently. I am in an unique situation where I know too much for my own good but that’s built from years of getting things done. I take on projects with excitement and get them done quickly and correctly.

      A lot of it may mean you need a boss who is happy to have people step up. Some want people to stay put but I won’t be reporting to any of those people if I can help it.

      1. voyager1*

        That doesn’t work everywhere though. One needs to know what their manager values and meet that expectation of value. Those are good things to do and in most corporate work places will probably get you noticed though. But it isn’t a sure thing.

        1. Bea*

          Mkay. It worked for me. A self made, independent woman who got places doing it this way.

          Find the right job. Work for the right people. Get out of a comfort zone. Stop acting like your choices are limited. Face fear and take charge.

          You’re replying to my comment, you don’t need to act like condescendingly by addressing me by my username.

          I’m giving advice to someone who hopefully gets far. Your negativity is boring.

      2. designbot*

        Obviously Anon16 could have a different reason for using that term, but to me someone seems over-earger when their eagerness causes them to take on tasks that don’t really make sense for them—they’re either already overburdened, or not in a position to know how to best approach them, or there’s some other mismatch going on, but they proceed anyway to show their stuff.

    3. neverjaunty*

      There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do better at work. “Over-eager” would be things like pushing for a raise or promotion before you’ve been there long enough for your managers to get an idea of your work, or continually telling your manager how she should be doing things.

      One piece of advice I got recently was to sit down with management (presumably yours, but definitely someone who has the ability to affect promotions/raises) to ask, what criteria does the organization use to determine whether someone has earned a promotion? If you know, for example, that you need to be turning out X deliverables a month or handling Y number of calls with a ‘satisfactory or better’ rating, then you have concrete goals.

      (On the other hand, if they can’t tell you anything other than vague platitudes about ‘doing good work’, then you know that promotions and raises are completely subjective, and you won’t be able to advance at that company unless it’s management’s whim.)

    4. Lemon Bars*

      Anon16 from your response I think you first need to make sure you are doing your job correctly and on time, and fullying understand your job and how it applies to the company and what your companies vision and department goals are. Understand that work your boss assigns to you or that you are expected to do is the minimum requirement for the job, getting it done correctly and early is not going above and beyond. Above and beyond is going the step further, and creating more efficient ways to do your job, finding the root cause of issues and fixing them, or going outside of the norm to make something right. Every company and business will be different for going above and beyond that is why it is so important to know your job and how it works with the company. Opportunities are out there but you have to look for them and jump when they come.

      1. designbot*

        +1 to this, and I would add regard every duty that comes your way as an opportunity. You have to finish something somebody else started and it’s a pain that nobody wants to do? It’s your opportunity to show you’re a team player and can pick up new assignments quickly. You have to do tedious repetitive tasks? It’s your opportunity to find an automation or create a template to help everyone do them quicker going forward.

    5. Jane*

      I really do feel like a lot of it is not just the actual work but the relationship with your boss. Do you guys gel? Does the manager know they can count on you?

      A lot of it is tasks and duties and doing them really well but then also anticipating needs in a way that’s appreciated. In my department I have had two different VPs. The first was not someone I gelled with. I like to be creative and any time I came up with a new idea or a new way to do things, she’d get very anxious. I am an extrovert and she was an introvert. I am very honest and she was the type who held all cards very close to her chest. The new VP is very much like me. I haven’t changed my work style or what I do, but he appreciated it and promoted me and I never would have been promoted under the previous VP.

      I think there’s also the aspect of figuring out how to sell yourself. There’s this book I read years ago called “Brag: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It” and it was eye opening for me. It helped me improve on my elevator talk and my quick pitch of what I was doing well. Being able to toot your own horn helps.

      But lastly, I think you just need to look for opportunities and ask for a promotion when the timing is right. After two years at my organization, a co-worker retired. I put together a proposal where I would inherit some of her job duties and get a bump in title. I did a lot of online research with my proposal and found out what other Associate Directors made at different organizations. I figured out how much they were paid at my organization and I packaged it together with my successes. My proposal ended up saving the organization money because rather than hire this higher level director position, they were able to shove some of her tasks to me and some to another area (and some were just past their time at the organization and stopped) and give me a decent bump in pay without losing productivity. I honestly think if I hadn’t asked, no one would have thought about it. No one is thinking about your career as much as you are. So sometimes you just have to see the opportunities and work quickly to jump on them.

      Another example, someone in a different department left a few months ago. She did a corporate magazine. That was her job. A colleague of mine wants a promotion and does a corporate e-newsletter. I suggested to her that she put together a proposal asking to take on the magazine for a bump in title and pay. She kept saying “I don’t know. They aren’t going to want to do that. I haven’t done an e-magazine before. I don’t know.” and now too much time has passed and they’re currently interviewing people to do the e-magazine. She missed her chance. I don’t know if they would have agreed to this or not but it doesn’t cost anything to ask. And if you do your research and put together a professional argument for it that benefits not only you but also the organization, you’ve got a good chance.

    6. Persimmons*

      Sometimes the answer is “do what you do, but faster and with fewer errors/less oversight”. Sometimes the answer is “prove that you can manage others who also do what you do”.

      What I do costs the company money instead of making the company money. That is a huge divide that affects the answer, as well. I need to justify a hard number (say, upgrading our servers) to provide an intangible benefit (making sure our historical data doesn’t crash and disappear). My justifications are often theoreticals that can be harder for management to swallow than if I could say “I sold 100 extra widgets this month” or “I eliminated a redundant process that will make our widgets cost 30% less to manufacture”.

      TL;DR: It depends on what you do.

      1. PersonalJeebus*

        Yes! In one job, I had to come to terms with the fact that it would be difficult to advance there, and my pay increases would be few and far between, partly because I was a cost and not a money-maker. The other part was that the company had set things up so that my role had no room to evolve and my workload would never become any more manageable than it was at the beginning, because they kept growing as fast as they could while keeping my department the same (too small) size, so I had a hard time making room for “above and beyond” stuff.

        My strategies for increasing my chances of raises/increased responsibility would have been to improve both my speed and my accuracy. I spent two years trying to do that and found my manager too difficult to please. Also, we didn’t “gel” as Jane describes above.

  6. Free Meerkats*

    #3 – How about something like, “I play as a Corgi Druid in an ongoing D&D campaign, and bring the problem solving skills and imagination to my work.” Or not.

    1. Herald of Storms*

      I would absolutely hire a Corgi Druid, if only to find out how those mechanics work that sounds beautiful.

    2. Turquoisecow*

      I don’t play D&D, but Corgi Druid sounds awesome. My mom has a corgi, and now I’m imagining him as a Druid.

  7. voyager1*

    LW1: I really like that AAM addresses what Diane needs to do to be promotable. I know when I got passed over for a promotion the person did not do that with me, I was told why I didn’t get it (reasons were ridiculous too LOL). Those reasons really got in my head too, and I got pretty bitter about it. Luckily I left 2 months after for a even better job so it all worked out.

  8. DaffyDuck*

    Professional demeanor – Please do bring this up with the intern, and stress that future job opportunities will rely upon how she presents herself. Women, especially if they are young, petite, and/or cute, are often encouraged/rewarded for the behaviour (in my experience, often consciously encouraged by older women who do not want to climb the career ladder). Self-infantilizing behaviour is short-term rewarding as co-workers voluntarily take care of more difficult aspects of a job or let things slide that others would not get away with (e.g., you worry about hurting her feelings). It is very hard to change speech patterns and behaviour that have been ingrained since childhood, especially in stressful situations, but it can be done. The suggested script is very good.

  9. ABK*

    #4: uggghh, this feels super gross to me. Most criticism of speech is directed toward young women, especially critics of upspeak and vocal fry. I do understand that there is are more and less professional manners of speaking, but if she’s young and female, it is really just piling on the ways that society likes to monitor us. It’s a hard balance.

    1. LSP*

      This was my first thought as well, though I agree the issue is fraught either way. On one hand, I trust OP understands certain behavioral norms for her field, and should be coaching the interns on them. On the other hand, young women are too often nit-picked on their behavior in ways that young men are not. This is not to say that OP doesn’t treat the interns fairly, but it is something to be sensitive to.

      During the first conversation, I would focus on cutting out the “umms,” “likes,” and giggles, and save the conversation on vocal fry, etc. for a later conversation if you really feel it’s necessary. I think the other aspects are actually far less professional-sounding.

      1. Ditzy Lawyer*

        I agree with your suggestion regarding the first conversation as I find that criticism to be more gender neutral. I’ve certainly encountered many professional men who use “um” and “like” unnecessarily in their speech and it’s quite distracting. (Possibly because I’ve been trained to not do that myself.)

        I’m a female lawyer who also happens to look young. My regular speech is fairly quick and perky but my courtroom/professional speech is deeper and slower. Personally, I found that just by being cognizant of the “umms” and “likes”, my speech became more deliberate and I appeared more confident.

        It’s almost like the “fake it till you make it” principle. You’re not suggestion for her to change her personality or her speech entirely. You are, however, suggesting she take on a more authoritative role with the clients, and that can be as simple as eliminating filler words when she speaks.

    2. Washi*

      It’s true that there’s no “one right way” to speak. And I feel pretty strongly that people shouldn’t be judged for their accents or because their voice is especially high or low. But that’s not what the OP is talking about, and people DO judge you for the way that you speak, and it is an important skill to be able to change your speaking style based on the context. Sometimes I use a lot of jargon on purpose because I’m talking to someone who won’t believe I know what I’m talking about otherwise. Sometimes I simplify my language. Sometimes I laugh a lot and use a lot of slang, and sometimes I’m very formal and meticulous in my speech.

      It sounds pretty clear that in OP’s experience, the intern’s style is not appropriate in this context, and she’ll be doing her a favor by correcting it instead of letting it continue to hurt her professionally.

      1. DaffyDuck*

        I agree with Washi about speaking, but I took away the OP is concerned with the overall attitude presented by the intern. How you present yourself selling shirts in the country club pro shop needs to be very different from teaching middle school. The OP mentions that they deal with a fairly rough population. Coming across as unsure/unprofessional/submissive could set her up as an easy target in addition to tanking her chances at promotion.

    3. betty (the other betty)*

      While I agree that a lot of criticism of speech is directed toward young women, certain speech characteristics can come across as less professional.

      I wouldn’t comment to someone who is already successful in their field but I think an intern should be learning how to be a professional as part of their internship, so it would be the right thing to talk to her about it. I’d same the same thing if the question was about dressing a certain way: during an internship, the intern should be learning about more than just their industry: they should be learning about the ins-and-outs of working and how to ‘play the game’ to be successful in the future. Speaking, dressing, and acting in what is commonly considered a professional manner is, perhaps unfortunately, a big part of that.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I just don’t think we’re going to change social norms? About upspeak? And whether it makes you sound confident? Or tentative?

      1. Lavender Menace*

        Well, of course we could change social norms about that. We’ve changed social norms about all kinds of perceptions, including how people speak, throughout history. I think the point people are raising that this is unlikely to change very quickly and could affect the intern’s career, unfairly or not, is valid and should be conveyed. But I also think it’s important for individuals to acknowledge that these judgments are not fair, and that they are often tied up with social roles. (For example, it’s not exactly a coincidence that a speech pattern that in the U.S. is associated with young women has been deemed “unprofessional.”)

        1. only acting normal*

          ‘…it’s not exactly a coincidence that a speech pattern that in the U.S. is associated with young women has been deemed “unprofessional.”’
          Too true. No-one criticises vocal fry as used by older upper-class English men speaking Received Pronunciation.

          1. Tim Tam Girl*

            Well, I do because vocal fry has made me want to rip off my ears and jump up and down on them since the first time I ever recognised it (Ira Glass in the late ’90s, to be exact). But I freely recognise that I am unusually sensitive to it, and that’s my issue to deal with.

            Having worked for many years with trainee doctors and nurses, I will say that vocal fry (by all genders and in all vocal registers) was a problem: patients who have difficulty hearing, patients who don’t speak English fluently, and patients who struggled with medical jargon were all challenged by it, and by the end-of-sentence swallowing/trailing off that often accompanies it. It was tricky, though, because their seniors didn’t want to be policing their voices (especially the young women’s) for all the reasons noted above. In the end, those who addressed it seemed to have most success with sticking to the ‘you need to speak audibly and clearly, and not swallow the ends of your sentences’ points because those are pretty indisputable.

    5. Lucille2*

      Based on OP’s description, the intern’s language comes across as lacking confidence – especially the up-speak. it will hurt her in any industry as she will find it difficult for others to take her seriously. I have seen the lack of self-confidence speech in men too, but it manifests in different ways. For example, I had an employee who was accustomed to using lots of exaggerations and general terms as a way to avoid sharing details. I found I had to ask several drill-down type questions to figure what the facts were, like an interrogator. My advice to him was to keep his language fact-based and to the point.

    6. Burned Out Supervisor*

      I get why it feels gross to direct this criticism toward young women, but I think of it more as feedback to help young women succeed in a patriarchal world. It’s a fact of life that women are discounted, ignored, and not respected because some women have adopted a speech pattern that conveys uncertainty and guile. Conversely, women are punished professionally for sounding “too bitchy” “crabby” or “too blunt.” We really can’t win. However, I think it is worth telling/training young women entering into the workforce to speak with confidence and authority/professionalism, because that’s what you are – a confident, professional woman.

      1. bonkerballs*

        Than that needs to be acknowledged, in my opinion. In the feedback that’s given to her. You can provide her with feedback and say in our current professional landscape, speech patterns that are frequently associated more with young women and people of color are seen as unprofessional and hold you back. And then she gets to decide if she’d like to cater to sexist bullshit or not. I will not stop speaking in my accent no matter how girlish or uneducated other people read it as.

    7. lil'*

      This felt gross to me too, but mostly just from the tone of the LW. Despite them saying that they want to coach the intern to help their career, it sounded like they were very personally annoyed by it! I know tone doesn’t always go over well via text, but it just seems like a lot of of their frustration was being put on the intern vs the manager who isn’t actually coaching interns and giving them valuable tips before entering the workplace.

    8. gecko*

      Yeah, I agree, but I think this is a very specific case. The OP is saying: my intern needs to come across as authoritative and competent on the very first word and very first look. It’s not working, and one area that could stand to improve is her speaking patterns.

      This isn’t true in all industries, where you get some leeway on that first impression and you don’t have to use every cultural tool in the toolbox. It’s also the case that overcompensating in some area can allow you leeway.

    9. SS Express*

      This this this this this. Criticism of things like filler words and high rising terminal is super gendered, and also ignores the important role those things can actually play in communication. I do think it could be helpful to point out that these ideas about how women should and should not talk at work exist and if she wants to succeed at work she may unfortunately need to play by these sexist rules, but that’s how I’d frame it. Not “the way you talk is inherently stupid” but “our gross society has decided that things young women do are inherently stupid, and until that changes it might be in your interest to avoid doing those things”. (Key word “might”, because in fact they can be very useful. Maybe the reason women supposedly use them more often than men is that the men are doing something wrong!)

      Jen Dziura wrote a great piece on this a while ago – link in my name (I hope).

      P.S. How often do you hear a man giggle? Almost never, because when men do it we just call it laughing and nobody has a problem with it.

  10. Yeah*

    Depends on the person, but it would be nice to know steps to take to become promotable in the future. Doesn’t have to be a wholly negative conversation, but a little compassion never hurts.

  11. RandomUser*

    Slightly different but I applied for an internal position in my fairly small department that would have been a promotion for me. I work very closely with my two supervisors. They never acknowledged my application. Conducted interviews in our small department without mentioning it to me. And then hired and announced the person (a friend of one of my bosses).

    I had always had good feedback on my work and had otherwise had a great relationship with my bosses. And I didn’t even expect to even receive the job. I was totally fine with not being promoted. But the not even being acknowledged as a person was honestly sort of heart breaking and so demoralizing.

    I’d say always acknowledge these things as awkward as it may be for everyone involved.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      That is just not right. Unless your application got lost somehow (unlikely in an internal system, or so I’d imagine), what this sounds like is that your bosses just don’t know a nice way to say “We value you, but you’re not getting the promotion,” so they postponed talking about it, avoided it, etc., simply because they chose not to deal with an uncomfortable subject. So…they chose their comfort over yours. And they were wrong.

  12. Mark A*

    #1. Just to clarify. One of the very first acts as a manager was to promote an ex colleague?
    If that is the case, I would anticipate you have set back the relationships with the other ex colleague a huge amount.
    To the point where I doubt it is recoverable so it does not matter when you tell her.
    I would tell her short time ahead, hours if possible out of courtesy.
    As a manager you will gain a whole new perspective, and the most difficult transition of all is the move to managing ex colleagues.
    I would have waited a respectable amount of time, and given Diane n opportunity to improve before that decision is made now matter how deserving.
    You may find that Sarah’s performance changed without a promotion or she takes her foot off the gas now she has nothing to prove.
    I accept I could be wrong and that I don’t know, but it is a significant risk.
    Your bias from the previous role needs to be put aside.
    There is a likelihood you will have a lot more work to do managing her from now on, and more than you need.
    Good luck

    1. atgo*

      Interesting perspective. In my experience, it’s better to recognize and promote the people who are excelling over babying those who are not. It makes more sense to invest in the person who is a high performer than cater to those who are chugging along… the risk of losing or demotivating the high performer through lack of recognition and advancement is costlier than causing issues with the low performer.

    2. Kate R*

      I don’t see where the OP says these are ex-colleagues. She just says she’s new to managing this group. She may have been a manager elsewhere within the company that allowed her to be familiar with both Sarah and Diane’s contributions. I also don’t really understand why they each should get a clean slate up this new structure. The OP knows that Sarah is an outstanding performer, and Diane is not. It does not seem fair to delay a deserved promotion for Sarah so she can observe Diane’s performance. The OP made it seem like if Diane were to improve, there is the possibility that she too could be promoted (“unless her contributions change considerably”), so it’s not as if Sarah is taking the promotion from Diane. It also seems pretty uncharitable to suggest Sarah may start slacking off once the promotion goes through. That sounds like justification for never promoting anyone ever, which is how you lose good people. You promote high performers with the expectation that they will continue to be high performers in their new role.

      If the OP was new to the company or only had a peripheral view of Sarah and Diane’s work, I would agree that she should give it some more time to really get a feel for their individual contributions, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    3. Tangerina*

      Wait, where does she say in the letter that she’s an ex-colleague? For all we know, LW is an external hire or came from another department.

  13. Lucille2*

    #1 – I’ve been Sarah and Dian in separate instances, and this has been my experience….

    As Dian, a peer who was junior to me was promoted first, and my boss pulled me aside to notify me before the department announcement. I appreciated the discussion and he outlined the reasons for the decision very well and saved me from some assumptions that might’ve lead to hard feelings. In a nutshell, Jr Peer was given a high visibility project that became a really Big Deal to the company that year. The project was originally slotted for me, but my workload at the time was too heavy to take it on and it fell in his lap instead. He also had some technical skills that may or may not have been instrumental in the project’s success – I did not have those same skills. In general, this was a situation where the timing really worked in his favor, but not mine.

    As Sarah, I took a promotion for which other, more senior peers were also in the running. One of my peers chose to stop showing up to work in protest, which resulted in his termination. I don’t believe this person was notified separately and I truly felt awful about his reaction. My promotion also put me in a lead role overseeing some of the department’s responsibilities, and you better believe there were a few people who sided with terminated employee and tried their best to make my job more difficult.

    Know your team. Things can really go haywire if don’t take the opportunity to nip things in the bud.

    1. The Original K.*

      Wow. I get the frustration, but no-showing out of protest seems … misguided.

      1. Katie McG*

        How does someone stop showing up for work and then act shocked when they dont get a promotion?

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I had someone stop showing up for work and was shocked that, after two weeks of no call/no show/not answering calls, it was classed as job abandonment, and they received a check for their remaining vacation and box of personal items. Then, they threatened to sue us for wrongful termination.

    2. Observer*

      Well, the fact that someone reacted to not getting a promotion by no-showing just proves that the decision was correct. Had you said that the person found another job, I would not say that but “I’m not coming baaaaack! You’re MEAN!” is a total non-starter.

      1. Lucille2*

        Needless to say, it was kind of a dysfunctional workplace with some not-so-professional people. If it had ended with one person abandoning their job, that would be one thing. But it was just a symptom of a very dysfunctional environment. Glad I wised up and moved on before getting too entrenched.

  14. nnn*

    Something for #4 to focus on is not so much that Intern is talking “wrong”, but that Intern is allowed – and even required – to be authoritative.

    When I was young, I wasn’t “allowed” to be authoritative in my jobs, by which I mean clients and managers perceived me negatively if I made declarative statements without mitigating them somehow with tone and delivery. If I said “This order of fries is for the take-out customer, not the drive-thru customer”, my manager would say “Don’t talk back!” If I went to the cashier office and said “Hi, I need a roll of quarters”, people would say that I’m “pushy”. If a client contacted our office about a service we simply didn’t provide and I said “I’m sorry, we don’t have anything like that,” they’d complain to my manager about my tone.

    (Even before I entered the workforce, I had the same experience with teachers and other adults around me, sometimes even into post-secondary education – declarative statements were seen as “talking back”.)

    So a lifetime’s empirical evidence taught me that emphasizing my youth and lack of authority and performing self-effacement was Proper Professional Communication, whereas any glimmer of authority was Rude and Unprofessional.

    I’m sure many of these people I interacted with would also have said (and some of them did say) that uptalk and like were Bad and Wrong and that I shouldn’t talk like that because it undermines my authority, but the fact remained that in actual, real-life situations, they weren’t happy with me talking or behaving as though I had authority.

    So LW#4’s conversation with Intern shouldn’t be about speech patterns per se, but rather why and how This Situation Is Different. How and why does Intern have authority here? How does someone like Intern express that authority while still being seen as professional and non-rude? Or is it okay to be seen as rude, and, if so, how and why does that work?

    Analogy: if you’re suddenly parachuted into a situation where “please” and “thank you” are seen as unprofessional, being told not to say “please” and “thank you” isn’t necessarily sufficient to make you come across as polite and professional.

    1. Ophelia*

      This is SUCH a great comment – thank you for putting into words the thoughts that were knocking around, unformed, in my head.

    2. Persimmons*

      One of my favorite examples of this is whem my father grounded me for my “smart mouth” when all I did was point out that he was scolding me for something about which he was factually incorrect. I learned that day that girls aren’t allowed to be right.

    3. Epocene*

      +10000 When I was an admin I got a lot of feedback that I wasn’t nice enough, even when I was doing favors for people, because I was too “gruff”. For me it was more “professional” to sound like an innocent child because otherwise it was threatening. I still include wayyyy too many exclamation points in emails because this is how I ensure I’m not coming across angry.

      So one way of speaking is not necessarily more professional than another. It’s so situational. But the point stands that it might help her in the long run to let her know how she’s coming across. And I definitely trust that OP knows what is best for this position. So in that case I would frame it like you are her buddy in this and that you know it should be arbitrary but here are some tips on communicating with clients.

  15. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms*

    In my last round of job hunting, in the “say something interesting about yourself ” bubble, I told my favorite joke. People seemed to like it, although my field is much less formal than some others. I’ve also had good luck talking about my collection of relevantly themed holiday socks. I think they really just want some indication that a. You have some kind of personality, and b. You’re actually reading the application and not just blindly copy/pasting your resume.

  16. Tuckerman*

    I actually like to ask candidates, what’s something interesting about you? It helps me identify potential transferrable or relevant skills that the candidate has not identified. For example, a candidate who did not mention she had teaching experience (helpful for the job) answered that she was a lifelong swimmer and taught lessons to both kids and adults.

    1. Lavender Menace*

      I think many candidates might prefer a question that’s more targeted towards what you are actually looking for, like “What other experience do you have that may have transferable or relevant skills?” or “Do you have any other work or volunteer experience that you haven’t talked about yet?” Simply asking me to share something interesting about myself has me wondering 1) do you mean professionally or personally? and 2) are you one of those companies that wants everyone to be a ‘family’ and ‘hang out’ together and other such things?

      1. nnn*


        Especially since something I’ve encountered in my job searches has been potential employers who are put off by the fact that I have skills or experience not directly required for the job, so there have been cases where it’s more strategic to hide it.

  17. Anonymosity*

    I filled out an online app this morning that asked for “hobbies and interests.” Ooooooookay. I just wrote that I like to read (makes me sound smart), that I do miniatures (a good icebreaker, as people ALWAYS ask about it*), and that I’m a writer. So I’m smart and creative. Hire me.

    *So was skating, but I don’t do that anymore so I can’t list it.

  18. Circe*

    Just don’t handle it the way a former boss did, which is, when Sarah is promoted, say, “I wish I could promote everyone, we just don’t have enough money.”

    This is also the person who, when I got bumped a band for administrative reasons, I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone because it happened way faster for me than it did for them. Mostly because the company realized the former processes were bureaucratic and people were unhappy about it, so they streamlined things.

  19. Sunshine Brite*

    #4: I think that’s one of the things in social work that’s so unwritten but necessary. Particularly working in dual diagnoses with the recently incarcerated not portraying assertiveness can be exploited. It’s really hard while learning the field to be both genuine and professional at the same time.

    I wonder though, if it isn’t really the style of speak or age that is the problem here. I feel like the workers I’ve come across with that demeanor also come across as fake or sheltered and have difficulty with the building of rapport more than overall professionalism. As an intern, is she checking her own use of self and self-awareness regularly? Does she understand the populations/neighborhoods served? If not, that’s a better place to help her build as a social worker more than coming across older or talking different. Fragility is not a good sign as well as many social workers tend to enter the field overly idealistic and have difficulty in the actual work environment. These are all areas that should be getting explored as part of an internship and your boss is doing a disservice to her and the profession not looking at that.

  20. Madeleine Matilda*

    OP3 – I would answer with something unique you have done in your field (ex. developed new XYZ) rather than something unique about you outside of work (ex. raise Great Danes). For example, several years ago I was the project manager for a major international project that received a fair bit of press attention. When I applied for my current job that unique experience got my resume noticed because several of my interview panel knew of the project including my current boss.

  21. RegBarclay*

    I was a Diane a couple years ago. My manager decided we needed a team lead and realistically it would have been between my coworker and me in terms of knowledge. My manager did take me aside to tell me about it, and although I was not upset (I don’t want to have to manage people and frankly I’d have picked “Sarah” too) I really appreciated the thought.

  22. Argh!*

    Re: #1

    LW seems to regard the promotion as a reward, not placement into a new position. Is this a promotion-in-name-only with a salary increase, as a reward for being a stellar employee, or really a new job?

    If it’s a new position, the promotion should be based on how well you expect the person to perform in *that* job. Duties in the old job might not line up. This is why there are so many incompetent managers in the world – they are rewarded for their performance as an individual contributor, not for their people skills, organization, etc.

    If it’s truly the case that one person has those qualities and the other doesn’t, then address those only the qualities that relate to the job description. If you critique something that won’t actually be a part of the new job, it will seem disingenuous, and if the person will be their supervisor, then there will be a bit of cynicism. She’s already demoralized. Using a promotion as a reward means she has no hope of any type of carrot at all unless you can figure out a way to show her your appreciation, and promise of more of the same if she improves.

    If I were her, I’d be demoralized too. Seeing others receive perks and promotions while not having opportunities to shine would be a downer.

  23. Mmm*

    #1 – I was the manager in a similar situation. What I did was sit down with the non-promoted person ahead-of-time and make a plan for what it would take to get them from their current situation to the point where they could be promoted to the next tier. Afterward, I let the promotion be announced normally. Promoted person had a promotion, and non-promoted person had a game plan. It worked out — about a year later the game plan person had also earned a promotion — which was also good for me, because then I had two more senior reports. That strategy really depends on the availability of promotion though– I was in a situation where promotions could generally be given as long as they were earned, as opposed to a scenario where multiple people were competing for a single promotion slot.

  24. SarahThisWeek*

    I so appreciate all the Sarahs and Diane’s chiming in here. I’m potentially a Sarah at work right now and am worried about how my Diane coworker will react. I’ve been told I’m the top choice due to leadership and critical thinking abilities, but she has far more experience and has actually been in that role at other companies before. She’s told me directly that she’s applied but I’ve kept my mouth shut so far… but I’m kind of feeling like maybe I should say something, even if it’s vague like “I’d love to do that job sometime too” just to soften any future surprise. I trust our boss to handle the actual decision communication well, but maybe I shouldn’t leave it all to him…

    1. TardyTardis*

      I was a Diane, but not for any lack–I just had a very heavy ordinary workload and couldn’t take on the extra reporting, especially during month end, so I just stayed with the very heavy ordinary workload. But hey, not there any more, and they had to get two people to take on the heavy workload.

  25. Kitty*

    As someone who has been in a similar position to Diane (though God I hope I wasn’t considered “incompetent” at parts of my job!), I would have appreciated a manager being as thoughtful as this.

    In my situation, there was no official “applying” for the Team Leader role, our manager just vaguely said when the old lead left that maybe there would be a new one eventually, maybe there wouldn’t.

    Then a very new guy, who I had helped train, was announced as new team leader the day of his one year anniversary working there. I was blindsided and humiliated. It was a very big part of why I left soon after (though the culture there was always a bit toxic so I wasn’t exactly happy, but this was the final straw).

    If they had been open about the selection process, even invited us to apply, I would have been able to process him being chosen over me much more easily.

    It was the vagueness and secrecy around the Team Leader position that was crazy-making. It seemed clear to me that they had had him in mind from the beginning, and had never considered me at all.

    When I asked for feedback later on why I hadn’t been considered, our manager gave the most vague and unhelpful responses, nothing really specific about my work, or actionable things I could do to improve my chances of future promotions.

    It was completely demoralising, and honestly still makes me feel upset and angry when I think about it, even two years later at a job I’m happy in.

    1. Former Employee*

      “Then a very new guy, who I had helped train, was announced as new team leader the day of his one year anniversary working there.”

      About the only thing worse than that is having to train your own replacement!

      I suspect that since you helped train the guy that they wanted a male in the team leader role, especially as the manager gave only vague reasons for this decision. Ugh!

    2. Kitty*

      The worst part was that I had been waiting on my own small title bump, which Manager delayed for months and months with no reason. Then on the same day his promotion was announced, they had HIM give me the title bump, in the most condescending and humiliating way. It took my family talking me down from just quitting on the spot.

    3. Kitty*

      It was just the cruel icing on the awful cake. It was so clear that they hadn’t considered me for Team Leader at all, so why delay my title bump until after that? Just an extra slap in the face.

  26. Amy*

    I’ve Successfully given feedback about speaking patterns and tone before. I approached it not as something that is wrong with her normal speaking pattern, but saying that most people need to develop and practice a business version of speaking pattern. I gave some examples and demonstrated how I would slow down my speech and slightly deepen my tone to sound more serious, pause more, etc to sound more authoritative. Do some self reflection on what you may do instinctively now to present the right persona to clients. Mention the topic to all interns, explain more in depth to those that need it, encourage practice and role play if appropriate. Look for what’s working and draw attention to it. This kind of feedback would be helpful to most young people and interns transitioning to a professional job, it’s probably easier to address since you have a scenario that very obviously requires an authoritative and trustworthy persona.

  27. GrandBargain*

    #1 – Dian’s reaction may not have anything to do with you or with Sarah’s promotion. Instead, it may well be based on how she has been treated, managed, and encouraged by the person who held your position before you were promoted. Has Dian been given regular feedback in the past? Was her manager effective at understanding her ambitions inside the company and coaching her toward those goals? You say that Dian does parts of her job very well. Are those parts important to you going forward? Has Dian been regularly recognized and praised and rewarded (ie, raises!) for doing those parts of her job?

    You may not be able to affect Dian’s immediate reaction to Sarah’s promotion (see other great comments above). But, you can have a clear statement on the importance (high, low or in between) of Dian’s role and a plan on how to manage Dian in the future. Perhaps give some thought to how you see that going over the next few months, discuss those with your boss, and figure out how to keep Dian motivated.

  28. ANON4this*

    I also had a similar experience recently being the “Diane” in the situation as well (though I also hope I’m not incompetent at parts of my job.) I was/am demoralized. I’m also confused, because objectively speaking, this coworker and I have the same level of accomplishments in terms of productivity and the success with which we complete our projects. The fact that I’m a WoC and he’s a white male adds to the fishiness of it all.

    The bottom line is, the LW can’t really do much about Diane’s reaction outside of addressing ways they can help Diane grow as a professional in the company. Diane may still leave regardless of what you do.

    1. Former Employee*

      If two people are equally qualified but there’s only one job opening, then one person is going to be disappointed. Is it questionable if the white gets the job as opposed to the woman of color? Not knowing any of players, it’s really hard to say.

      Maybe the other person was more qualified in less tangible ways. Perhaps he was praised by senior management for something; maybe other managers told your manager how well he interfaced with their people.

      However, if you had been incompetent in some areas of your job and that’s why the other person got the promotion, your manager should have spoken to you about it, so it’s still on them.

      1. TardyTardis*

        But if the people promoted are *always* white men and *never* WOC, one can sense a trend.

  29. Hot Chocolate*

    In response to #4, as an unconfident person I worked hard at sounding confident on the telephone while I was in a helpdesk job, speaking in a lower tone and not using uptalk, only to receive feedback from my manager that I should use uptalk and lighten my voice to sound more friendly.

    1. TardyTardis*

      Women aren’t supposed to sound authoritative, and then they’re not promoted because they don’t sound authoritative. No surprise!

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