my out-of-control emotions are getting me in trouble at work

Emotions and work are a weird thing. Part of being professional is keeping your emotions in check – but that doesn’t mean that you magically stop having them. This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talked to a guest who’s worried that she has a habit of emotional outbursts at work — and it’s starting to affect her relationship with her boss. On the other hand, though, her boss isn’t handling things well either.

The show is 28 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. Murphy*

    This was a great episode! I’ve had this problem before, and this was good advice.

    I was glad when you pointed out her boss’s behavior (i.e. not speaking to her for days), because that sounded really weird to me.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Gotta love those squirmy moments of self realization.

    Anyone else recognize themselves when Alison was talking about how people who did well in school probably didn’t learn how to take criticism well?

    LW is definitely not alone.

    1. strawberries and raspberries*

      Yeah, as far as the roots of my neuroses go, this is definitely in the top three.

    2. CaliCali*

      Yep! It’s taken me lots of time, introspection, and therapy to even start to get to the point where I don’t see criticism as an attack. When you grow up with a self-identity that’s closely coupled with “being good at things effortlessly,” it is SO hard when you come into real-life situations where that’s just not the case. Which is…the majority of real-life situations.

      1. frostipaws*

        I have always wondered…why aren’t kids taught these skills in school? The subjects I studied in school? Don’t remember most of what I learned. However, life skills for how to interact and be successful in real life? Those would be more easily learned when young, last a lifetime, and save so much heartache!

        1. Cafe au Lait*

          There is where ‘learning through play’ comes in. When kids play, at recess, at the park, or just about anywhere, they’re practicing for adult interpersonal conflict. That’s why the loss of recess in school is so profound. Kids are losing valuable interpersonal learning time.

          1. MagicDance*

            Or as I knew it, “you’re weird and we don’t like you so go play by yourself” time. Explains why I never learned how to have close relationships with many people.

            1. Batshua*

              I definitely had playmates at recess, but I also struggle socially because “you’re weird and we don’t like you” happened in a lot of other contexts.

              Also, very late-diagnosed autism.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          This may potentially be setting up a derail, but seriously we need to overhaul how we think about education and teach actual life skills like this and how to do your taxes and how credit cards work and basic cooking.

            1. Grapey*

              ‘Cause kids don’t always have the best or able parents.

              If society is responsible for educating kids (via taxes) I’m ok with teaching them how to be useful members for the really important stuff.

            2. Peggy*

              Because kids shouldn’t be punished more than they already are for being born to parents who don’t or can’t teach those things?

            3. Snark*

              Because some parents can’t, or don’t, or aren’t physically available to, or never learned to themselves, or or or. That whole privelege thing, rearing its ugly head.

            4. Anon a mouse*

              For the critics of this comment–how much do you expect schools to teach? Who’s supposed to be teaching these life skills? What do you suggest that all of the children whose parents taught them these skills should be doing while the other students are learning these skills? What do you want teachers to not teach so that these skills can be taught?

              It’s not fair that kids with bad parents should be punished, but pre-schools, programs before or after school, community organizations, and other outside of school time plans is where these skills should be taught.

              1. aebhel*

                That’s such a weird framing. My parents taught me to read at a young age, therefore schools shouldn’t teach basic reading skills because people like me already knew how when we started and we’ll be bored?

                Incorporating lessons on basic social skills into day to day lessons isn’t that hard, which we know because schools already do that with things like learning to share, keeping your hands to yourself, the golden rule, etc. How to deal with critical feedback isn’t something that’s generally taught in a similar way in elementary school, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. I feel like you’re imagining some intensive full-period course on Basic Social Skills, but that’s not the only way for it to play out, or even the most likely one.

                Also, have people never heard of Home Ec? Shop? Technology classes? Schools already teach ‘basic life skills’, the problem is that (going by my school, anyway) what they’re teaching is often things like ‘how to sew an entire shirt’ or ‘how to do needlepoint’ rather than life skills that are actually going to be useful.

          1. Indoor Cat*

            I have to admit, I have a very knee-jerk reaction against this kind of comment, albeit unfairly.

            Teaching is hard. Running a school as a principal is hard. Being an education activist lobbying in favor of higher budgets and convincing residents to vote in favor of levies is hard.

            And, what I run up against a lot is, everybody has a demand, and nobody wants to be part of the solution. Not saying that’s you, Detective! But I hear one parents’ group saying, “why don’t you give every student study skills practice?” and another saying, “why don’t you offer the sport / foreign language / extracurricular my kid likes?” and another saying, “why aren’t you disciplining bullies more severely?” and another saying, “why are punishments against my kid so harsh?” and another saying, “why don’t you put all resources on getting kids up to grade level in reading and math?” and another saying, “why aren’t you providing challenging material for the most advanced kids?” and “why are there so many students per teacher? Why can’t I choose which teacher I want my kid to have?”

            The answer is: we have finite resources. Limited time. Limited money. Limited space.

            Does this result in the parents organizing to raise more money? No. It results in them threatening to vote against levies until they get what they want. Or, taking their kid out of school, to homeschool or unschool or try to get into a magnet school, and then voting against levies or pro-education state budgets because, ‘hey, they didn’t help *my* kid; why should I help them?”

            And a new suggestion, one that time should be taken up with character education, or emotional regulation and resilience lessons, or even to center cooking and domestic responsibilities, it becomes just…another thing. It’s probably a good suggestion. But it’s exhausting. How are we going to implement it? How would that even be possible? Where would the time and money come from?

            I try to not be angry at people whose desire is good. Because it’s good to want education to be better. I want education to be better. It’s just stressful, because what is even the first step to take? I have no idea. I wish I did.

        3. LaurenB*

          Because life lessons are learned through… life. I think schools are trying to teach character, study skills, work ethic, etc. But it’s not like you can sit kids down and say “Here’s how to gracefully accept criticism in three steps! Test on Friday” and the job is done. Schools give children ample chances to fail, accept feedback, learn from mistakes, etc. If they don’t automatically learn to do it well, it’s more likely that it’s because they are young and don’t have the maturity of adults (who STILL need therapy often to work on these skills) not the fault of already overloaded schools to make sure that children emerge fully-formed for all of life at 18.

        4. MM*

          I don’t know how you can really teach this specific thing other than through experience, though? I personally remain forever grateful to the English teacher I had who gave me just slightly subpar grades and wrote “So what?” on the bottom of my papers for nearly an entire semester, because it genuinely made me reevaluate what I was doing and push myself, even though I did, at one point, lie on the couch and wail to my dad “I’M NOT A WRITER.” But if I had been sat in a classroom being told “Just because you’ve historically gotten good grades on something doesn’t mean you can’t do better” and “Criticism can be good for you,” I can’t imagine it would have sunk in all that well. God knows I don’t remember a thing from public speaking class, which was 100% designed to teach a “life skill.”

        5. chrome ate my username*

          This is a core argument I’ve seen for gifted education, in that if a certain group of kids are allowed to coast through school with everything being easy and their performance being perfect, they will not achieve what they need to as adults because they do not understand how to handle things that are above their ability level.

          1. Jaydee*

            As the product of gifted education, I agree with that. But I can also say from experience that gifted education alone doesn’t prevent it. Being identified as gifted can also combine with a fixed mindset to make it even harder to accept criticism because you are so used to “being smart” that errors and mistakes and failure are all a direct threat to your very sense of identity. Reading the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck a few years ago was eye-opening for me. I’m skeptical of some of her specific methods (and recent studies have shown some of the emphasis on praising the process over the result doesn’t work as well for older kids) but the idea of trying to nurture the mindset that anyone can improve at anything is wonderful.

        6. Jaydee*

          I think schools are moving in a direction of teaching this more purposefully. My son’s elementary school does student-led conferences, where the students rate themselves on various things and the teachers rate the student on the same things and then they talk through why they each gave those ratings with the parents. And the areas they rate on are things like “I do the best work I can” and “I am kind to my friends.”

          But I think to a large extent it’s the natural result of a certain type of school environment. When school involves proving what you know and getting the “right” answer and doing things a certain way, then criticism is bad because the output is binary. Either you did the thing right or you did the thing wrong. But when school is more exploratory and there’s emphasis on making progress or on the process of learning, it’s easier to see criticism as a necessary step in that process.

        7. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

          Because of some school experiences I had, I think that schools shouldn’t be in the business of “correcting” kids’ personalities; this has at least the potential to get uncomfortably close.

          1. chrome ate my username*

            Heck, even some *jobs* shouldn’t be in the business of “correcting” people’s personalities. I’ve seen some pretty nasty toxic behavior due to this at work, ex: “I the supervisor do not like you, even though most other people do, so I am going to rip your personality apart as insufficient for the job” or “I the supervisor like this person very much, so I am going to gloss over the fact that they are terrible at their job and are causing their coworkers to send out resumes.”

    3. BRR*

      That was me for a long time. While not in the industry, getting a degree in music performamce was incredibly helpful in not taking criticism personally. I got ripped apart on a weekly basis so things now are not usually that bad.

      1. Denise*

        Totally agree with this. Have a voice teacher stop you every 10 seconds to tell you you’re doing it wrong (only to bring out your best potential, of course) every week for some years and you really learn to have thicker skin about things and to realize that critical comments are not the same as insults.

        1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

          So true! But a bad teacher can really ruin it for you. Having a micromanaging teacher who would say “do it like this, it’s the only correct way” one week and “do it this totally different way, it’s the only correct way” the next week, leaving no room for discussion or ambiguity or individual expressivity on my part, really did a number on my confidence that took a long time to recover. At times I was afraid to play for her at all — “what’s she suddenly going to say is wrong THIS time?!” — and played everything the “safe” way.

          I was never a performance major, so those of you who are probably have me beat in terms of harsh criticism. But I think that what Alison says all the time around here about “brilliant jerks” applies — there are so many teachers and conductors who can say what you need to hear *without* being cruel.

      2. Tired*

        Ugh, preach! “That was terrible, do it again” does not mean “You’re a terrible person, do it again.” Thanks, music performance degree.

    4. Zona the Great*

      Yep! I spoke to Alison on a podcast about my desire to show what I know at work. Much of it has to do with how well I was expected to do, and how well I did do in school.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Ooh were you the “can’t stop showing off” one? I related to that one hardcore.

        1. Zona the Great*

          So so validating to hear from everyone and that problem has gotten easier with comments from Alison, et al.

    5. Kaboobie*

      This is so me: top of my class, rarely had to deal with criticism. Add in a helping of hippy parents who didn’t really set boundaries and you have an adult who has a problem with authority figures. I’ve had therapy, and though it didn’t deal directly with these issues it helped me mellow out and be less defensive overall.

    6. LurkieLoo*

      I did super well in school and don’t snap at my bosses. However, I also had a temper and recognized that in my late teens and worked really hard to suppress that. Breaking the impulse to react and shutting it down is hard work.

      It’s definitely a skill to stop the impulse reactions. To bite your tongue and think through an appropriate response.

      I still don’t take criticism particularly well. Since I’m perfect and boss isn’t, ;) but by biting my tongue and doing whatever the task is, I either realize maybe my boss was right after all OR I find a way to communicate why/how I’m right. Sometimes it’s a matter of presentation or explanation.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, I don’t take criticism at all well, but I’m pretty good at keeping my mouth shut and maintaining a pleasant and professional demeanor, which most people seem to think amounts to the same thing. Even if my internal reaction is ‘oh f*** you.’

  3. Amber Rose*

    I know that early on when I started working, I was pretty emotional at work and it definitely impacted the way people saw me. It was a heck of a wake up call when someone called me out on it bluntly, and it really helped me to think about how I was behaving and why, and then go looking for other things I could be doing instead. This is one of those times when “I should have done X” is actually helpful, because the more time you spend thinking about what you should have done, the more likely you will do it next time it comes up.

    As long as you aren’t beating yourself up about it. That’s not helpful at all. Learn from the past, don’t let it crush you.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Out of curiosity, what did the person say who called you out bluntly? I mean, just the general sort of statement that they made, without naming specifically what you were doing if you don’t want to.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Oh gosh, it was a long time ago. I don’t remember the specifics, but it was something to do with how I often had a sour look on my face when asked to do something, and that my tone of voice was very grumpy, and that I should be aware that it made other people not want to interact with me as much and it reflected badly on me.

        And I know there’s a lot of “policing people’s faces is bad especially dudes to women” stuff going around these days and that guy sure was kind of a jerk about it, but I really was scowling and wearing my heart on my sleeve like, all the time. I really needed someone to tell me to cut that right the heck out.

        I was very sullen and angry about it for a couple days but it stuck with me because I knew it was true, and I started to wonder what I was hoping to accomplish by being that way and then I started to feel embarrassed about my behavior and THEN, I started to improve. Slowly.

        1. Lissa*

          I think some of this also can be a blind spot because it’s so so easy to, when we’re doing it ourselves, think “well, I’m just having a bad day this one time” and not realize that “this one time” is way way more frequently than we realize. I had a similar realization of how I was coming off, weirdly, when I read over my last few weeks of social media accounts! Like, I did Thing X without thinking about it, then seeing it in black and white just how *often* I did it was really a wake up call as to how I would likely be perceived.

      2. Former Emotional Wreck*

        I had a manager call me out on this behavior, too. She was very plain: “You are doing x, x, and x. That is not acceptable behavior. Your behavior is impacting your reputation with your coworkers and making them feel uncomfortable. You may disagree with a coworker and become frustrated with situations, but this is not a professional reaction and you will not be taken seriously about legitimate issues if you continue acting this way. This is not an effective way to communicate and will lead to bad outcomes for you. If you continue behaving this way, you will be fired, regardless of whether colleagues outside of this department behave. I expect a different standard from you.”

        It sounds harsh, but because her own delivery was so unemotional, it was really helpful for me. It helped me understand that work (and life, really) isn’t about fairness or feelings, but about getting the result I want, and sometimes that requires behaving in a way that is counter to what would feel good.

        Lashing out and being petty can feel pretty good sometimes. It’s at least distracting … and the more you are caught up in it, the less you are able to see the outside clearly and advocate for yourself in an effective way. If I wanted to see real change about the things I was frustrated about, I needed to be seen as easy to work with and good at my job. Communication is part of every job description.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Those are both great examples of a manager dispassionately giving someone relevant information about themselves. I had a report who I wanted to address that issue with, and it’s so hard to do without feeling like you’re being overly-personal and -critical.

        1. Former Emotional Wreck*

          Isn’t it ironic, though? Because us hyper emotional folks are the most likely to be overly-personal and critical, and then justify that behavior to ourselves as just “expressing ourselves.”


      Different people like different approaches. I find really framing it for myself specifically as “-Next time- if a similar situation comes up, I’d really like to -try-… X”

      Or “I -want- to do Y instead in the -future-” helps me a lot.

      Sometimes if I think “I should have done” it has this time travel quality. Or there’s this idea that my past self could have had more knowledge than I did.

      So words like “now” “in the future” “want” “try” “like really feel empowering

      I I find it helpful just to accept that the past is a sunk cost. And I have to learn to reflect now and act in the future.

  4. Denise*

    I had a sit-down with my manager about discontentment related to work, and at one point she noted “I’m not someone who hides what I feel. I’m up front about it.” And my thought was, “Yes, and that means all the pettiness, the favoritism, the warm and cold behavior, etc. is telegraphed all the time.”

    Of course, I didn’t say that; but it just struck me that for her it was meant to show how honest or “real” she is, but to me it just proved why our working dynamic has never been pleasant to me–it’s largely due to her not maintaining a professional objectivity about people and things. It’s not even so much about emotions, really, as much as realizing that, at work, things just aren’t about how you personally feel about them.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Granted, I’m a person whose emotional responses have to be dragged out of her with a forty-mule team, but when somebody says something like this to me, what I hear is, “I react without considering, or really even caring, how what I say may affect anyone else, and I don’t take responsibility for my words or actions after the fact.”

    2. Lissa*

      There is someone in my life who started expressing himself, shall we say, more recently…. he’s like “I came out of my shell!” and part of me always thinks “can you please go back in a little?” Not every thought or frustration needs to be expressed all the time! Inside the head thoughts are OK too.

  5. voyager1*

    Honestly I had a tough time listening to this one. I didn’t find much sympathy for the LW till maybe the last little bit, it does sound like she wants to change…. maybe.

    Telling your boss that you don’t want to do something because you don’t like it is pretty insubordinate. Telling your boss to leave you alone when your sick is pretty darn rude even if you have a fever.

    I think the boss is handling it pretty well really, guess I disagree with AAM there. Yeah the boss withdrew a little, well who wouldn’t, and the frankly the alternatives would be some kind of discipline action that might lead to termination for LW so maybe LW should be thankful all she got was the silent treatment.

    I would be curious what advice AAM would give to the boss in the story, other then don’t call someone a milenial?!?!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My advice to the boss — you need to deal with people in a mature and professional way, it’s not an option to give someone the silent treatment, and if someone is doing something you don’t like, your job is to explain that calmly and matter-of-factly! If she’s upset with the OP, she needs to use her words and tell her what she wants her to do differently.

    2. Observer*

      I think the boss is handling it very poorly. It doesn’t matter that OP was rude or insubordinate, there are professional ways to react and less professional ways to react. And the silent treatment is not a professional way to react. It’s also not effective. If you have someone who is good at what they do but also engage in a behavior that is problematic, you want them to stop doing that before you get to the point of firing them. Calm, straightforward, clear and authoritative feedback (and whatever consequences may come along with it) is far more effective.

  6. Drago Cucina*

    Just had a meeting with other library directors and I did a brief (10 min) talk on evaluations. Feedback needs to be sooner rather than later. One of my failings early on was putting off these discussions because people were really emotional. One wouldn’t talk to me for weeks. Another would develop a “sinus headache” and have to go home. These weren’t big evaluations, but any type of ‘Please do R instead of P.’

  7. Nnya*

    My kid is learning this through figure skating. She loves it yet places near the bottom of every competition. She’s good but the others are incredible. Shes learned she can like something shes not the best at

    1. Dr. Doll*

      That’s really great, and probably speaks to a supportive environment elsewhere (home! :-) ), that she can take the enjoyment without finding the “failure” (so to speak) a referendum on her value as a person, specifically a female person.

    2. BF50*

      That was me on swim team in middle school. I loved being in the water, but in the 2ish years I did it, I placed in only one heat, and that was because there were only 3 swimmers in my heat. I did come in second, so I beat someone! :)

  8. Dr. Doll*

    I was just listening to the “Science of Success” podcast episode about the Big Five personality traits, it was fascinating, go listen to it, but relevant to this discussion: The presenter pointed out that “authenticity,” behaving as your genetic disposition informs you, is often maladaptive to your “core projects” (how you spend your life, what you want). For example, if your natural tendency on the Agreeableness trait is low…you probably need to train yourself to be more Agreeable even though it’s not “authentic” to who you are *biologically*. There’s more to us than our biology.

    1. Sketchee*

      Sounds very interesting. The research on the Big Five has long been an interest of mine. I’m going to check this out, thank you!

  9. soon 2be former fed*

    I think the guest here should have been told that she cannot snap at her boss, period full-stop. It’s best not to snap at anybody because it’s disrespectful, but snapping at the boss? Career suicide. The guest here just has a snappish personality and must learn to rein it in. I think the boss handled it fine. Boss didn’t want to be snapped at again and thus stopped communicating for a period. Maybe guest could learn deep breathing techniques to calm herself, or something similar.

    1. LGC*

      Actually, my read on it was different, and possibly colored by the letter from yesterday about the boss giving the silent treatment (which the caller’s boss also did!).

      It seemed like from the details the caller gave, she kind of saw her boss as her friend to a degree. And I think that’s probably not just on the caller. (Or I don’t know. Maybe, like the caller, I’m an entitled millennial.)

      1. soon 2be former fed*

        The entitled millennial remark the boss made was crappy. Bosses aren’t perfect either. Sometimes the silent treatment is a cooling off period.

        1. LGC*

          Bosses aren’t perfect either.

          Tell me about it. (I am far from perfect. Heck, I could probably provide enough letters for this site for a month based off of my work foul-ups.)

          But also, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you (and voyager1 above) are dismissing the boss’s misbehavior for the most part and saying that it’s primarily the caller that’s in the wrong. While I agree that Caller does have a lot of stuff she needs to work on, and sometimes a cooling off period is useful…she’s giving the silent treatment for a week and a half. (The first instance was a few days. The most recent one was the week and a half.) That’s excessive – there are very few things I can think of that would happen at work that require 10+ days to come down from, and refusing a work assignment in an impolite manner shouldn’t be one of them.

          That coupled with the fact that Caller mentioned she and her boss share a lot reminded me strongly of yesterday’s letter.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        I’ve snapped at a boss and told him he was a liar. But he was batshit crazy and lying. It wasn’t career suicide, but it was a toxic place.

    2. Snark*

      Yeah, this is not a “I can’t control my emotions in general” problem, this is a “I can’t control my impulse to be really snappy and unpleasant with people all the time,” and there’s a difference.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, I think a lot of people have snapped at someone at work occasionally, but if it’s happening all the time, you need to learn to rein it in.

    3. Sketchee*

      As you said, the boss needs to discuss.

      Silent treatment is the wrong way to go because this person is in the role of providing feedback. You can’t be silent and hope another person “gets the hint”. Instead the boss needs to be direct.

      Rather than being told “don’t snap” however, as a boss you have to provide alternatives. Giving a “don’t” without a “do” misses a big half of good communication.

      Coach on desired behavior. “Rather than snapping, I need you to talk to me directly about your concerns. I understand that you were sick, not at your best.We might need to come up with some back up plans for unexpected sick days.”

      Of course, the LW doesn’t have to wait for the boss to be the one. Either person can start initiating better communication.

      LW can say things like – “I want to talk about the other day. I realize I didn’t come across well when I was sick. I’m thinking of ways I can help us both to handle it better. I’d love to come up with some back up plans for sick days. Here’s where I’m keeping information on X, Y & Z.”

      OR “I also think a text message with heads up might give me a moment to compose myself.” OR “I might ask for a moment when I pick up the phone.”

      If I were the LW I’d also practice a few phrases to express thoughts and ideas professionally. This has saved my career with frustrating clients. “I’m concerned about…” “I’m happy to help, can you tell me more about…” “Would you tell me more about why X is important. I’d appreciate understanding better.“ “Great!” “This might not be the way I chose to do it, because X and I think you’re doing it because your priority is more like Y. Is that right?”

      This takes practice. Not everyone got that practice in their family or school environment. I think a lot of us forget that after we’ve been working well for a while.

  10. Observer*

    As I noted in another comment, I think that the boss is not handling things well. Both the way she’s reacting and the blurring of boundaries.

    Nevertheless, the OP has a major problem, in my opinion, and she REALLY needs to get a handle on it or it’s going to really hold her back in her career. I see a few issues here.

    Some are ones that she recognizes, but she also seems be missing how serious this can be. It’s not just in this job that being too emotional or defensive is going to be a problem, it’s going to be true in any job. And even when (or if) she gets higher on the ladder, it’s going to be an issue, even thought it might become LESS of an issue.

    There are two things that she seems to be missing totally, though. Firstly, no matter how good you are there are always going to be things about a job that you don’t like – and that’s just too bad! Allison is 100% right that there is no shame in deciding to avoid a career trajectory that avoids certain things that you really, really don’t like or have a problem with. But, as long as you do stay on that trajectory, you have to deal with that thing. And even in a trajectory that plays to your strengths and minimizes the stuff you hate, some things are still going to be tough for you and you need to deal with it.

    I noticed that she is having a hard time with customer service and cold calling. Choosing a career path that avoids that can make a lot of sense. But, even if you want to be “just” the writer that does the tasks and want to leave development of the specs to someone else, you still cannot get out of dealing with people, and not just your coworkers. There comes a point where you simply cannot expect someone else to find the sources and make the calls etc. You need to do those things, introvert or not. And while it’s easy to say “well, then just find the kind of job that doesn’t require ANY of that”, the reality is that this will surely mean other trade offs. So, you simply can’t push back on tasks just because you don’t like them.

    Which leads to the second thing. The OP told her boss that she doesn’t need to do the task because her work is good enough. In a lot of places, that kind of comment would put her on thin ice. It’s an incredibly insubordinate thing to say. It also betrays a profound lack of understanding of how jobs (and growth) work. Unless your boss is really terribly unreasonable, you don’t get to tell your boss that you don’t need to do some part of your job because you are so awesome at another part of your job. And you certainly don’t grow in your role by focusing only on the part of your job that you like and leaving off the part you don’t.

    OP, I’m glad you are self aware enough to ask Alison for advice. On the therapy thing, if you fan find the money and therapist that works for you, you don’t have to tell people what you are doing. No is entitled to an accounting of how you spend your time and money. You just need to find the right way to shut down the conversation. Another thing that might work for you is look at this issue – of developing a filter and finding better ways to communicate in the workplace – as a skills deficit. So, finding someone who can help you improve those skill would be useful. (That’s one of the things that I think executive coaches wind up doing.) It’s also something that may be easier to present to people – ie NOT “I’m going to therapy” but “I’m getting some soft skills training. The stuff they don’t teach you at Uni.”

  11. Lady Blerd*

    I know that OP can’t seek therapy so I hope she at least considers reading a self-help book about on how to help manage her emotions. Consulting has given me a lot of insight on what is going on in my brain when that happens and some ways to avoid those situations. I have snapped at people over the course of my career and personal life, usually that was linked to a lack of sleep and stress, so I have a lot of sympathy for LW, I understand the lack of control when the words just come out.

  12. Oilpress*

    I like emotional coworkers. They just have to learn when and how to display their extremely positive or negative emotions. With someone relatively unknown, hold back. With someone very familiar, you can open up more. I like when my employees come to my office, close the door, and express their open feelings about things. I don’t like it so much when they do that with non-teammates observing. That’s a different situation, and I would expect them to show more tact.

    It’s a question of emotional intelligence.

  13. Similar Position*

    This episode resonated with me at a high level as I just went through this myself.

    I too was in a job where I would snap at my boss, get defensive when questioned and my performance severely deteriorated over the nearly two years I worked there….until I was fired.

    At this job I felt often attacked by my boss for not putting in enough hours when my hours were on par with other coworkers, or not being efficient when I was doing the best I could given the situation. Other coworkers with a better relationship with my boss we’re often rewarded for much more minor things than I was in my opinion. That place was very old school in culture (no female upper management and all managers and above had a stay at home wife or no kids) and being a millennial I butted heads often with their thought process.

    Leading up to my firing, I would be brought in for meetings to discuss my poor performance and I would get very defensive and snap. After I was let go, I was able to truely reflect on the events that took place. I realized that I was not happy with my life outside of work and that I was miserable at work so therefore the build up just exploded every once in a while. In the month that I was without a job I reflected on what needs to be done differently and I switch specializations within my field to start fresh. I looked into therepy and still might but my current job is amazing and the people are great. There is tremendous opportunity to grow and this change has really helped with my mental state in my life. I also have had more important conversations that I was avoiding in my personal life which has helped out as well.

    So my advice would be to sit down and reflect on if that is what you really want to do. If not, maybe it’s time to explore another avenue.

  14. Anon Person*

    Not sure what country the OP is from, but if the boss is from a different region OP’s accent may be a factor in increasing the apparent “emotion” of her interactions. There are regions where loud aggressive speech patterns are the norm and others where flat speech patterns are the norm, and sometimes mixing the two can lead to miscommunication. It’s something to be aware of during work interactions, where it can help to slide to the middle of the scale if you’re at one end or the other.

  15. Junior with Emotional Boss*

    This was SUCH a helpful podcast episode! It has made me realise however that whereas I am learning to reign in my emotions and handle conflict in a more mature and calm manner (I’m fortunate that I realised this far before I got into work, as a result of a failed romantic relationship), my boss never quite seemed to pick up the habit. He has on a few occasions rolled his eyes at me and sighed loudly if I asked a “stupid question” or snapped at me. This once resulted in him having a full on rant at me which included a casually racist remark. I was willing to look past all the other times he snapped at me, but the racial remark was crossing the line. I was too shocked in the moment to say anything, but later I sat him down and calmly told him that it made me very uncomfortable and he should not do it again, after which he apologised.

    He doesn’t do this TOO often or otherwise working with him would be unbearable – I love working with my boss otherwise, he’s very good at his job and is usually friendly and willing to mentor me. There haven’t been any further incidents since, but I’m keeping an eye out in case it becomes too much of a habit.

  16. Koala dreams*

    Thread for late-comers!

    I thought I could add a new thread for late commenters who read the transcript and want to discuss this post. I’ll start. I found the discussion about the technical versus social demands of the work very interesting. I also have this experience. I expected my work to be more quiet and focused, and sometimes it is, but then there is customer contact and I struggle a lot.

    1. Cassandra*

      I just wanted to say that I wish AAM had been around when I was a younger person new to work (in, you know, the late Paleozoic Era). I needed to hear this specific set of things very, very badly.

      I’m older. I’ve learned some things… but I learned them the hard way, the way that involves (wholly evitable) career damage and (lots of) painful self-recrimination.

      OP, you are lucky that AAM and Alison exist.

    2. WellRed*

      I can’t stand listening to podcasts, but read the transcript. I was struck by her comments about introversion and how she doesn’t like cold calling. I am also a writer and get this. However, the further she advances, the less handholding she will get ( more calls on her own). If that’s an issue, it won’t go away. Something to consider as she charts her course.

    3. Thany*

      Yay! Thanks for starting this late-comers thread!

      I related to the introvert aspect of this post. Part of my job responsibilities is calling multiple people a day, but there are some days I don’t feel up to it. Luckily I have flexibility where I can focus on other tasks one day and then take the next day where I make my phone calls. It’s really helpful to me to balance that. Maybe that would be helpful to the OP.
      As an introvert, one of the other things I struggle with is communicating how I’m doing in the moment. Sometimes I can either react or shutdown, which I have struggled with in my personal relationships as well. OP, this might be something you are doing. In the moment, if you understand you’re not feeling well or in good place emotionally, communicate that! I’m often told I’m not easy to read or that I come off very rude. For the example when you’re sick, calmly and rationally say “I have a fever and I am not thinking very clearly. I don’t think a meeting would be helpful for me when I am not feeling well. Is it possible for us to schedule this at a different time?” Or the example when she kept pushing on you “This task you assigned me if making me feel very overwhelmed/uneasy/unprepared/etc. Is it possible I can complete this task not at all/later today/tomorrow?”. The key is that whatever the answer is to these questions, you will have to follow. But you are giving the other person context about how you feel about the situation, and then they won’t think you’re being rude when they see your perspective.
      I hope that helps!

      1. Koala dreams*

        I also find it very hard to communicate when I’m sick or in a bad mood. I try to be more clear with what I need, for example if I need to stay home and rest that day and come back to work the next day, or if I need a break before discussing something more. It doesn’t come natural, so I have to think of these things. I think your suggestions for phrasing sounds good!

  17. Jennifer Juniper*

    I slip into customer service mode when I am stressed. I repeatedly apologize and say memorized phrases like, “One moment, please,” and “Thank you for your patience” and “I am happy to do this for you.” I do this at home or with friends, which gets me lots of strange looks. But it keeps my emotions in check sometimes.

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