coworkers only ask me about ducks, adult facts in a work presentation, and more

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

1. People only ask me about the ducks I work with

I’m in the lower-middle level of food service establishment with a couple hundred employees. Last year, I started a side project where I got us a small flock of ducks for fresh eggs and general merriment.

Ever since, folks only ask me about the ducks. I have brief interactions with at least a dozen people a day and 90% of the conversations start with, or completely consist of, “how are the ducks?”

The ducks are darling and entertaining and I love working with them, but they are a small part of my job and not the only interesting thing about my role or personality. I’m getting increasingly cranky and desperate for more diverse conversations. The ducks are always fine. If anything big happened with them, I’d let folks know. They are literally out the back door and anybody could go look at them if they wanted.

Is there any way I can get out of having this same insubstantial conversation 10 times a day for the foreseeable future? Especially since any one person probably won’t ask me about them more than twice a week, so it seems unreasonable to ask an individual to stop? I want to be friendly and gracious but seriously enough with the ducks for one second.

I feel guilty because I really want to ask you for a picture of the ducks.

This is going to be tough because lots of people are going to find it amazing to have ducks at work, and they are going to think of it every time they see you and feel jealous that you work with the ducks and will want to ask about it. It’s easily the biggest conversation starter that people who don’t know you well will remember. (In fact, I bet that the people who know you really well / work with you most closely don’t do this nearly as much, right?) They’re also probably not accounting for the fact that everyone else is asking about the same thing all day long.

You could put up a sign that says, “The ducks are great! They are right out that door if you want to see them” with an arrow and a picture of the ducks … and that will probably cut down on some of the inquiries, although not all.

You could also cheerfully respond to inquiries with, “Everyone asks me about the ducks!” As long as you say it cheerfully and not resentfully, that’s a polite way to nudge more perceptive people into realizing that it’s probably too much.

But that might be the best you can do, unfortunately. You have ducks at work! It’s going to be a thing. (Although it will probably become less of a thing in time, when the novelty has worn off a little.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Is sex a bad example in a work presentation?

I sometimes present internal “an intro to statistics” seminars at my company. Previously I have based the seminar on the fact that men say they have sex with women much more often than woman say they have sex with men, which is by far the clearest example I have of many obvious and not-so-obvious statistical issues.

No clients attend and the seminars were well received, but I am now less young (and I have read your blog more) and I think this was a bad idea. My question is how bad? Can I never mention the example at all?

Yeah, I’d steer clear of that example (unless, of course, it’s directly relevant to the organization’s work, in which case that’s entirely different). It wasn’t the worst thing in the world and you don’t need to feel mortified or anything like that, but using an example about sex in a work context risks (a) coming across as gratuitous — like you had other good examples but chose this one because Sex! or (b) making people a little uncomfortable. We’re all adults and know people have sex, obviously, but it can feel a little jarring to have it come up in a work presentation. (Plus if you have anyone creepy there, they’ll be all too happy to use it as a lead-in for inappropriate remarks to others, either in the moment or later.)

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Another org’s volunteer went on transphobic rant in a shared space — and their staff did nothing

My nonprofit organization shares office space with bigger health care organization.

One of the other organization’s volunteers was standing in a common (but not public) area, talking loudly and at length to one of their staff, and saying a litany of transphobic and anti-LGBTQIA2S things. I could hear this person ranting from my office a good distance down the hall. The staff member didn’t say anything to shut it down or challenge their bigotry. Their only response was to say things like, “mmhmm” and laugh (uncomfortably?) along.

Both organizations work with many trans and queer people, including me — I also happen to be a client of this other organization.

I’m shaken up by having to listen to this at work, and I’m horrified at the possibility that other LGBTQIA2S clients may have heard this go unchallenged.

I’m going to talk to my boss about this, but is there a way I could have responded in the moment? What’s the best way for my boss to approach this? Since I heard this while I was at work rather than accessing services as a client would it be inappropriate to file a complaint as a client?

I think you had standing to interrupt the conversation and say, “We’d rather not hear things like that in this space — could you take this somewhere else?” Or more explicitly, “We support the people you’re speaking about. It’s not okay to say things like that here.” Or, “What you’re saying is really offensive. Could you please stop having this conversation here?”

You could indeed file a complaint as a client. But another option is to approach someone with some power in that organization and frame it as “as a client and as someone sharing workspace here, I was alarmed that your staff didn’t shut this down.” And you’re someone with the standing to push the other organization on this (which may or may not be your boss) can make it clear to them that it’s not okay for bigotry to flow in your shared halls, and that their staff needs better training and supervision in what to do when a client is spewing bigotry (at least that’s the charitable interpretation, and you might as well start there when talking to them).

4. When your college changes its name

My undergraduate school has changed its name in the time since I graduated. When I put my education on a resume, should I use the name the school is known by now, or the name that appears on my diploma? I’m not sure which one is technically correct.

Both! Do it like this:

Old Name (now New Name)

5. I don’t want to have LinkedIn because of an abusive ex

I escaped an abusive relationship about three years ago. My ex’s sister thinks I lied to “try and ruin his life” and is the kind of person who would email false complaints about me to an employer to try and get me fired to “ruin my life as revenge.” So I never ever post on the internet where I work.

But I keep getting pressured to have a LinkedIn and I am worried it looks like I have something to hide career-wise. Is it sufficient enough to say “I have concerns about putting personal information online” when asked about this, or is there another approach I should take?

Who’s pressuring you? If it’s just random people, you can cheerfully say, “I’m not a fan of having personal info online, and I’ve never found that I need it.”

But if it’s your boss, I’d be more explicit. It should be enough to say something like the above, but if you’re getting continuing pressure (in some roles, some companies do like people to have a LinkedIn presence), it’s very likely that she’ll stop if you say, “I had a situation in my past that means for safety reasons I can’t put information online about where I live or work.” If you think it’ll carry more weight, reword that to “Because of a situation in my past, I’ve been advised that for safety reasons I shouldn’t put information online about where I live or work.” (I’ve just advised you of that, so it’s true.)

{ 521 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    There are a TON of off-topic conversations below — I blame the ducks. It’s too much for me to clean up, but please help me by limiting it! Thank you.

    1. Jerry*

      “It’s too much for me to clean up” is usually what people discover when they bring ducks around.

  2. Alldogsarepuppies*

    Add me to the list of people enthralled by the ideas of ducks. Are there eggs for your clients/costumers or the staff? Can the ducks start their own twitter and tweet to your employees updates about themselves? Would that techically be a quacker?

    1. KR*

      I love the idea of a duck twitter or instagram account. I was imagining some sort of white board with duck updates or an egg count, but this sounds like less work.

        1. Comms Girl*

          I was going to post the exact same thing. That Twitter thread made my week!

          (This also made me think of the duck club letter… just because it involves ducks :) )

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Yes when I read the title I did not think ducks meant actual ducks but a stand in for the thing in the duck club letter.

        2. Misunderstood Betsy*

          That museum Twitter thread just brought me so much happiness, bless you I Go OnAnon!!

        3. RJ the Newbie*

          This has just made my week! My firm does work for many of these museums and this will give my team suck a kick. Thanks!

        4. Elemeno P.*

          Thank you for this. My coworker and I are now talking about big duck energy and unsolicited duck pics.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        I follow a grand total of three entities on Twitter — and two of them are my favorite location-tweeting food trucks — and I might follow the office-duck Twitter account.

        1. LivesOnTwitter*

          It was started by the Museum of English Rural Life, on Twitter @themerl. It’s just a delightful account. They also were responsible for the hilarious “absolute unit” meme.

      2. Marion Ravenwood*

        Duck Twitter is a brilliant idea. I’d definitely follow that!

        (Incidentally, for fans of duck-based Twitter accounts, the university I went to has the highest ratio of ducks to students in the UK, and they have a daily duck account here:

    2. Lanon*

      I want to know where this restaurant is now and if customers eating there are allowed to see the ducks :D

      1. many bells down*

        There’s a tea room I go to that has both ducks and chickens wandering the grounds. If it’s warm and the patio doors are open they occasionally wander inside but not for long.

      2. Else*

        Used to go to one in Austin with my parents that had a flock of peacocks, which wanders freely around the neighborhood. Green Pastures.

    3. Anna*

      Love the idea of intranet or twitter updates about the ducks. Also if people are really interested is there an opportunity to involve them? “Duck apprentice” slots once a week where people get to meet the ducks? “Duck of the month” awards. I know this is all more talking about ducks but if it is coming from you then you get to shape it and it’s more likely to help people get to know you as a person, not just as a duck keeper!

      1. Shad*

        I suspect that the novelty of ducks will wear off more quickly the more people are involved in the day to day of the ducks, too. It seems like another situation where a bit of up front effort/headache can really make things easier in the long run.

        1. Ophelia*

          Yes, *particularly* if the “Duck Apprentice” gets to deal with, shall I say, clean-up and maintenance.

      2. Excel Wizard*

        Oh I love this idea so much, maybe a bit selfishly as I want to follow that duck IG/Twitter!

        I think the duck questions are coming as a general conversation starter, instead of “Hey, whats up?” now you have “Hey, how are the ducks?”. Having a the ducks be apart of their day-to-day could stop some of the questions as they already know the answer to it, so hopefully they would slowly start to veer away. Also, this suggestion is great because being able to have the ducks wear your jerseys, doing duck-yoga or presenting any hobbies you may have would also help them get to know you a bit more. “I saw the ducks are huge Broncos fans! Me too! Did you see that goal last week?”.

      3. OP1*

        I think trying to get folks more involved is a great idea! One of the problems is that though I love having and interacting with the ducks, I also have to shovel their poop and clean their mucky water so some of the magic has dissipated.

      1. New Year, New Me*

        Just FYI, my family had a flock of ducks as pets once. They are very loud as well; not sure in comparison to chickens but they were quite noisy. We could always locate them around the yard, even when they were hiding, based on their quacking.

        And don’t get me started on the noises they make when the flock got attached by a fox… yeah, our little guys ended in tragedy, sadly. We lost half of them to predators before the others were sent to a farm. And yes, it was a real farm, not a metaphorical farm; I helped bring them there.

    4. CDM*

      Costumers and customers! (I’m now picturing a flock of ducks wandering around a medieval-type restaurant/attraction full of costumed staff!) Delightful.

    5. Not Today Satan*

      I love ducks and all animals, but even so my reading of that dynamic is that people are just looking for something to connect with LW over. Like when I know someone is really into the Eagles but I otherwise don’t know much about them, I’m inclined to ask them about the Eagles when I see them, just to form a connection.

      1. Khaleesi Esq.*

        Ha! At OldJob, when I was brand new, coworkers got the mistaken impression that I was a Marilyn Monroe superfan after I joined in gushing after two coworkers made a special trip to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. I was just young and new and wanted to be enthusiastic about their trip generally. But coworkers latched onto that and for several years gave me Marilyn button pins and postcards and biographies etc. at holiday time or my birthday.

        1. Not Today Satan*

          Hahaha, I’ve been there. Then at a certain point it becomes too late to be like “Actually…”

    6. Dr. Pepper*

      I would want to talk about ducks a lot, but in great detail and not as casual conversation. Like, I would probably be one of the few people who truly cared about the ducks and would want details of their health, behavior, production, and everything. But I’m an animal person and I have spent my life caring for and working with all kinds of different livestock species. Guess what people remember about me? Yeah, I field a lot of these types of questions, nearly all from people who don’t particularly care about said creatures, but want to connect with me so they bring them up.

      It’s amazing how different it is to talk to people who are asking because they care (and either have intelligent questions or their own knowledge to contribute) and people who are asking because they don’t know what else to talk to you about. The former is fun and interesting, the latter is hollow and exasperating. I have an idea you’re experiencing this latter feeling.

      1. GreenDoor*

        If it is the “people who don’t know what else to talk about,” I’d suggest redirecting by using the ducks, as in,
        “The ducks are super excited about the new menu changes” or
        “The ducks are just as irritated as the rest of us that the fryer still hasn’t been repaired” or
        “The ducks are petitioning to have the back patio opens up soon – they miss taking their lunches outside.”

        Hopefully something like this will redirect the conversation to other things happening around the workplace?

    7. Kathleen_A*

      I enjoy ducks very much, but having grown up around a house with a few chickens, a duck named Huckleberry and a goose named Sam (officially changed to “Samantha” once it was discovered that she was female but invariably called “Sam”), I have to say that I don’t like duck eggs, and I like goose eggs even less. They’re OK if they’re mixed with chicken eggs, but by themselves, I do not care for them.

      But I’d love to have some to look at around my workplace!

    8. Jules the 3rd*

      IOW: If you lean into it proactively, you may get some variety in your questions.

      Me, I’d be going for a DuckCam, internal to the company. That way people can find out how they are for themselves. And you can slide the conversation into views / internet marketing campaigns or other topics very easily, instead of just ducks.

      1. Alanna*

        I agree 100% to leaning into it! You’re the duck person. You’re not going to escape this. Embrace it, now it’s your brand! I spent years running a cat rescue, and a decade building a career, then i adopt some guinea pigs, and suddenly in my work community i’m the guinea pig lady. It was weird, and I didn’t know why that would be the recognizable thing, but everyone wants guinea pig updates and pictures, so I put pictures of them in my tech presentations and I embrace it. It’s my brand now. It’s weird, but who cares? It’s turned out to be a great conversation starter at tech conferences, even!

    9. OP1*

      We have a facebook and instagram and they are definitely the most popular posts. I don’t think I can put a photo in the comments for y’all, right?

            1. bluephone*

              Oh gosh they are too cute (and I normally side-eye ducks, geese, etc. after being attacked by a Canadian goose as a kid)

  3. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    I thought question 1 was going somewhere very different, thanks to to the duck club. I am relieved.

    1. Bowserkitty*

      SAME. I will never hear the word here the same way again.

      You have ducks at work!

      And the only type they should have. The adorable type.

    2. Flash Bristow*

      I came here to say the same! Every time this website mentions ducks, I think of people knowingly quacking to each other… argh!

    3. LGC*

      Me reading this letter:

      Me: …don’t say it
      Me: …don’t say it
      Me: …DON’T SAY IT

      …Me: QUACK QUACK LW1

      (So yeah, you’re not alone. Although, yes, this is the kind of Duck Club I can get behind.)

          1. LGC*

            Welcome to AAM, OP1. I feel like those words should be the new site motto.

            (And also, thanks for coming through with photos! It made my day, that’s for sure.)

  4. KR*

    I love that line “I’ve just advised you of that, so it’s true”.

    OP1 – I don’t think you can escape this. Ducks are cool. It might help to start discussing other things with your coworkers though! In such a large business I would imagine that it’s hard to know a lot about all of your coworkers so there’s a chance the people you’re talking to don’t know much about you and your work other than the ducks. Also, if you make it boring for them to ask and do not provide helpful answers to them, eventually they may stop asking.

    OP3 – OH. MY. LANTA. That is terrible!! I agree that you should approach someone in power at your organization. You deserve to work peacefully without listening to that garbage.

    1. Bunny Girl*

      I do wildlife rehab on the weekends (mostly during the summer) and the first question I get asked at work every Monday is “How are the raccoons?” Not a lot of people get to work with animals on a regular basis, but so many people love them. It’s hard to get away from it. I really like the idea above that someone suggested- having a social media for the ducks. It would probably take you about a half an hour a week but that’s probably how much time gets taken up with questions.

      They could also follow up the question with “Have you been to see them? I can show you where they are if you ever want to pop over to have a look.”

    2. Kes*

      OP1 – Ducks are unusual enough that they will stand out in people’s minds as a thing they know about you to ask about, rather than more generic “How are you” type conversations, and for people you only have brief conversations with, you may not get to anything past that. However, for those you do chat more with, you should be able to just give a brief answer and then move on to other conversation about things you do want to talk about.

  5. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – it looks like people are trying to connect with you. Yay! Unfortunately, many people are bad conversationalists so they are going for easy – the ducks. They also go for the ducks because they know less about you.
    If you want to be kind you could say “Ah, the ducks! They’re fine, though I wish someone would ask me about (subject of your choice).” Now you’ve given them something else to ask about.

    1. Thinking Out Loud*

      Yep, this was my thought. You could also pivot to asking theperson about themselves.
      “How are the ducks?”
      “Oh, they’re good, but sometimes I get tired of fielding questions about them. Do you have any fun hobbies we could talk about instead?”

      1. AK*

        or even just “ducks are good, have you seen (new movie)/read (book)/heard about (lighthearted news)?”

    2. Willis*

      They also may think they’re showing some support for the project. Which is nice, but…yeah, tiring. I think you could kind of use the language in your letter. “They’re great, but I get kind of tired of talking about the ducks. They don’t change too much. What about….” Of course there will probably be some time period were you get tired of telling people you’re tired of talking about the ducks, since it sounds like it’s a bunch of people asking about them. But, if it dies down after that, it may be worth it.

      Sidenote: I had a boss who raised a couple ducks in her backyard. The first one happened to share the name of my dad, so when she got a friend for him, I suggested she name it after my mom. She did. So I used to get updates about the activities of my duck parents. If people wanted to talk to her about those ducks all day every day of her life, it would of been her own, unique version of heaven.

      1. JDR*

        Until this moment, I hadn’t thought at all about the fascination with ducks. I work for a company that owns properties with several lakes, and there are ducks there. People watch them for hours. When the ducks reproduce, we have people who protect the ducklings from predators. I wish I could post a photo, because I have some cool images of a duckling AS IT HATCHES.
        See? Ducks cause people to go off the rails. The reason I’m commenting in this particular space is because when I was a kid, I had a pet duck named Clifford. He was name after my Uncle Cliff. He thought it was funny, and I remember my parents laughing hysterically because I chose to name a duck after the brother-in-law. I don’t know why. Clifford disappeared one day, though. My parents’ story was the neighbors complained and it was against city law to have a duck in the back yard. Looking back on it, though, I think Cliff became gumbo. Or, maybe both things are true.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      Also, as OP introduced the ducks, they may assume that nothing could be a more welcome topic of conversation, which isn’t the craziest assumption.
      I think OP might have to develop acceptance of what cannot be changed.

      1. MommyMD*

        I agree. And ducks are living breathing beings with cute quacks and personalities. Nothing is ever going to beat that for a conversation starter. Ever.

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      By appearing annoyed in any way by duck questions, you run a big risk of looking like a jerk. These people are just trying to connect, and the ducks are an easy conversation topic. People are overwhelmingly unsympathetic when you refuse an offering of small talk. It really doesn’t matter what the subject is, but a refusal to discuss a “cool” subject like ducks comes off even worse than, say, being bored by discussing the weather.

      Just smile, say the ducks are great, and change the subject. That’s it. Make it part of your standard phrases, like “good morning” and “fine thanks”. Most people won’t actually care much about the ducks, and would likely be horrified if you went on in great detail about them. They just want an easy conversation topic and an easy way to connect with a colleague.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Yep. They’re using the duck questions as a variant on “How’s it going?”

        Imagine how off-putting it would be if a colleague responded to your “Good morning, how’re you doing?” with “You know, I’m tired of constantly being asked how I’m doing.”

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Yes please. Some of us are introverts and find it hard to start conversations. Ducks are unusual. Ducks are something neat to begin a convo with. Plus, there probably IS really genuine interest. So be kind like this and just divert the convo to something else.

    6. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yep, this is just the way conversations tend to go, especially at work. If you ever get pregnant, be prepared for six months or so of people asking you how you’re feeling and trying to tell you their labour stories; if you buy a house, people will ask how that’s going and tell you their home-buying stories, and so on. (If you do both at once, as I did, you’re set for small talk for a good year!)

      It does get tiring, but it’s well-intentioned. Your best bet is to let it go (like water off a duck’s back? Ha!). You can continue the conversation if you feel like it, or change the subject if you don’t, but either way don’t invest too much energy in worrying about it. It’s just small talk, and most of the time people will talk about the most obvious thing.

    7. OP1*

      I was worried I’d sound like a humbug from my letter because who possibly wouldn’t want to talk about ducks! I realize I’ll probably just have to shift my attitude about it and accept it as a new “hello.” I wanted to see if Alison had any incredible insight for me because sometimes she comes up with things I’d never thing of!

    8. TootsNYC*

      This is a very nice way of pointing out that it’s getting repetitive!
      And I think you -can- point out that it’s repetitive.

    9. LabTechNoMore*

      Alternatively, go the opposite route. Make it a default greeting by casually shooting the question back at them:
      “How are the ducks doing?”
      “Goood! And how are your ducks doing?

    10. Double A*

      I say invent a whole soap opera story for the ducks. Give them names and character arcs. And if you’re not feeling creative enough, you can just model it on a show you like. Then it’ll be more interesting to talk about the ducks!

      I mean, our cats have whole personalities and backstories and my husband and i can talk about them for hours despite having many other things to talk about.

    11. Crooked Bird*

      People are bad conversationalists! For sure. Boy if I had a dollar for every time people said to me “You grew up in France? Hey, say something in French!”
      Mostly when I was a kid/teen. Kids are even worse conversationalists. It really takes a lot of practice!

  6. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

    On a more practical level, can you preemptively ask people about their lives? If you see Jimothy walking down the hall, ask about his knitting project. Ask Bethinda about her band. Work in your other not-Anatidae interests.

    1. Fan of The Far Side*

      You just had to use the scientific term for the duck/goose/swan family…

      Anyone else remember Gary Larson’s Far Side about Anatidaephobia?

      I just went to look for his drawing, and found a plethora of art his original work had spawned. It would appear that many other artists were inspired by his idea.

      (Seems appropriate for the AAM setting that the original takes place at the man’s office.)

      1. gg*

        Last time I googled Anatidaephobia I followed a link to a WebMD article about it, where there was a sidebar ad for Aflac.

      2. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        Far Side is the only reason why the scientific term came to mind! But really, I can’t type duck without giggling, because I am basically a twelve year old in an adult body.

      3. Pomona Sprout*

        I didn’t remember that Far Side cartoon, so I googled “anatidaephobia,” selected “images,” and much hilarity ensued, including but not limited to the cartoon that started it all.

  7. Engineer Girl*

    #4 – Maybe you can change it to those who love/hate cilantro. It turns out it’s genetic so may be a fun exercise by race, gender, etc.
    And hey, it’s a food that garners a strong reaction.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      If you’re looking for other examples I can think of some.
      Like the number of people that claim they vote for a president before and after he won. Or people who claim they voted for a president right after he won Vs 3 years later.
      That’s especially true for presidents that became extremely unpopular after being in office (Nixon).

      1. I heart Paul Buchman.*

        Cool examples but personally I’d steer clear of politics.

        My ideas (haven’t looked for studies but think I’ve heard of these):

        – number of people who report being above average drivers
        – number of people who think they have above average IQ

        1. Engineer Girl*

          That’s why I suggested Nixon. He’s far enough in the past for people to not get inflamed. And he’s generally considered corrupt. So there’s quite the difference between people who admitted they voted for him Vs the people who actually did.

          But your choices are good too.

            1. Dot Warner*

              He took office fifty years ago this month. I’d wager that most of the people OP works with weren’t even born yet, and most of the ones who were alive back then were still children.

              1. SavannahMiranda*

                Agreed. He’s quaint now, for what it’s worth. However, his presidency is also something of a proxy for our current political situation. I’ve seen more than one query online lately along the lines of, “People who lived through Nixon’s impeachment, did you agree he was corrupt” and that sort of thing.

                Which is unfortunate because he would be a great example in a statistics presentation even 3 years ago. But some attendees might read historico-current references into it now that otherwise aren’t intended. (Unless they are intended, in which case have at it, but I’d perhaps stay with the sex question at that point instead.)

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think Nixon is a generally safe bet, if you’re going to use an example from politics. It’s far enough in the past that people will look at it as a historical fact, not a value statement about a particular party or contemporary candidate.

          1. Queen Anon*

            “Oh, please! If every vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock.” (Spike)

            (Sorry, couldn’t help myself. But if you could get those statistics!)

        2. EnfysNest*

          What about “how often people tell their dentist they floss versus how often they actually floss.” I don’t know if there are actual statistics (there could be), but I’ve certainly joked about this with lots if people before and overstating your flossing rate seems to be a *very* common and relateable thing.

          1. Elemeno P.*

            This is perfect. The only people I know who actually floss as often as they tell their dentist they floss are dentists themselves.

          2. Agnes*

            The flip side is, they don’t believe you if you do floss regularly. I force my kids to brush and floss once a day. I tell this to the hygienists, and they check off “brushes daily” and “flosses occasionally”. I think they think that if they actually flossed daily, they would brush twice daily.

          3. Sparky*

            When they ask me when’s the last time you flossed, I always respond, “Don’t you have that written down in my chart?”

          4. ValkyrAmy*

            I am aghast! I thought most people brushed 2x/day minimum and flossed 1x/day at least 6 days a week. Does my dentist think I’m lying? AM I LYING TO MYSELF?

            1. KTB*

              I brush 2X/day and floss three times a week, on a good week. My dental hygienist approves, and says I am definitely on the “flosses more than most” end of the spectrum.

        3. Karen from Finance*

          As an econ student I’ve always been fascinated by people’s perceived relative wealth. Both poorer and richer people will trend towards perceiving themselves as more middle-class. If you ask them which quintile they think they fall in, this stands out a lot.

          1. Pippa*

            Interestingly (to me, at least!) there’s a US-UK difference in how people report their own socioeconomic class. What you’re describing is the case in the US, but the UK has much higher rates of self-identification as working class (not entirely linked to income or job). Class identification patterns have been shifting over the years, I think, but it’s still the case that most Americans identify as middle class and most Britons as working class. (Caveat here about variation across different survey instruments, but it generally holds up.)

            Also, way more people claim to have voted than actually vote.

            1. Baby Fishmouth*

              Well, keep in mind that ‘middle class’ has a different connotation in US vs. UK. Most of the time, I find that what people refer to as middle class in the US would likely be working class in the UK. Middle class in the UK would usually be referred to as upper-middle class in the US.

              1. Pippa*

                In some ways, but it’s also a matter of class identity being more complex than income, or even income plus job type. It’s a useful example for teaching because it helps us think about assumptions behind the measures we deploy, and whether we’re always measuring what we intend to measure.

          2. Chaordic One*

            Several times I’ve read that since the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 fewer people are claiming to be middle-class and more are (seemingly accurately) saying that they are “lower middle-class”.

        4. No Tribble At All*

          Here to support “more than 50% of people think they’re better than average drivers”

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            That in itself is flawed though. What makes a “good driver” is subjective. People could well be rating themselves entirely accurately, but tend to value the driver qualities they excel at.

            1. sarah*

              I read once that people in the hospital for crashes they caused still rated themselves as above average drivers… because, you know, other than the part where I crashed I’m still a good driver!

          2. Inca*

            This doesn’t need to be a contradiction, because of their idea of what makes a good driver will also vary. So someone may value ‘not being slow or insecure’ as a trait of good drivers, and they themselves may indeed not be slow or insecure (but at times agressive or speedy, which they don’t consider to be too much of a problem, but others do, and they may list ‘being careful’ as the hallmark of being a good driver.)

        5. Solidus Pilcrow*

          The number of people who claim to watch public television vs viewership stats. Generally, people feel like they *should* be supporting public television when they really don’t watch the programming.

          1. Geoffrey B*

            Church-going is another one here. If you ask people to keep a diary of what they do with their time, and then add up the time they spend in church, you’ll get much smaller numbers than if you go around asking specifically “how much time do you spend in church?”

            (Of course, this example also has potential to be problematic in some workplaces.)

          2. Doc in a Box*

            A lot of these examples seem like they have to do with social desirability bias, rather than stats. So does the sex example, actually, with an extra helping of double-standard. Unless you’re focusing on the psychology of why people answer surveys the way they do (and how surveyors account for that), maybe use the gambler’s fallacy instead.

        6. Geoffrey B*

          ObPedant: Depending on how you measure it, it’s quite possible that most people are above-average drivers, same as it’s possible for most people to be below average income.

      2. Statistical OP*

        Ooh, that’s a nice one for social desirability bias!

        If I don’t use my sex example I’ll be using different examples to cover different issues, this could certainly be one of them.

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          Statistical OP, I’ve always heard of the example that people will self-report that they eat far more broccoli (or kale, or green vegetables, or what have you) than upon rigorous analysis and data recording it turns out they actually eat.

          In case that’s useful to you – look into the broccoli self-reporting conundrum and use it!

      3. Bookslinger*

        Another genetic example is people who can curl their tongues v. those who can’t. Be prepared for at least half the people in the meeting to stick out their tongue and prove they can/can’t curl theirs!

    2. Jackie*

      I. Hate. Cilantro. It tastes and smells like stinkbug, and I want to dry heave just thinking about it. I cannot be around anyone who has chopped or prepared a dish with cilantro, and eating it is basically like an early Stephen King novel… absolutely terrifying and disturbing. For some sick and twisted reason, my dna test says I have the cilantro-liking gene.
      That said, I would definitely pay attention in a “boring” stats training using this example.

      1. Tinker*

        I’m kind of the opposite — I have the “cilantro tastes like soap” gene, and I like cilantro. Apparently I like the taste of soap.

        (Though actually, my experience is that sometimes cilantro tastes like soap, or cilantro-heavy salsas have a strange chemical taste. My suspicion is that cilantro varies in how much of the offending chemical it has, possibly in part as a function of preparation.)

        1. syseng*

          The more the cilantro was chopped up, the more that the offensive chemical gets released. So it makes sense that salsa that uses a lot of it would tend to taste more chemical-y to you than other dishes. You might also find yourself put off if you ever come across a restaurant that sprinkles finely chopped cilantro over random dishes as if it were black pepper (I was once unfortunate enough to get a plate of mac and cheese, of all things, prepared this way…)

          You might also be less of a “taster” than most other people with the gene…which is a good thing, trust me.

          1. Jaid_Diah*

            Nooo, I’ve eaten chopped cilantro and whole cilantro (before I sadly realized what that parsley looking stuff was, eww). However, I can use ground coriander, no problem.

            1. boo bot*

              As far as I’m aware, coriander doesn’t trigger the “soap” taste in the same way as cilantro leaves (it’s the seed, for any who wonder). My mother, my brother, and I all have the soap-taste gene; if I chew on a whole coriander seed it kind of has a detergent-esque taste, but dishes seasoned with coriander usually have other seasoning, too, and it’s fine.

              1. Slartibartfast*

                That’s weird, because to me fresh cilantro leaves taste just like dish soap, but dry ones are good.

          2. TrixM*

            Conversely, I’ve found that if the leaf is ground to a pulp, whatever-it-is is oxidised or something, and it’s now edible.

            I suffer from the “chopped leaves taste like stinkbugs” problem, and yet I like Indian curries where there isn’t any leaf scattered on top. I’ve experimented myself with making a curry paste from scratch with the leaf well-ground in a mortar and pestle, and it was fine. Except for one or two mouthfuls where a piece of leaf was more intact.

        2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Did your parents wash your mouth out with soap as a child? I had a friend who this happened to who developed a like for the taste of soap as a defense mechanism and is crazy about cilantro because it tastes like soap to her.

          1. boo bot*

            I never got my mouth washed out with soap, but we had jasmine-scented soap and fennel-flavored toothpaste when I was a kid, and now I can’t drink jasmine tea or eat fennel without feeling like I’m consuming a cleaning product.

        3. Ophelia*

          I also have the “tastes like soap” gene, and find different varieties of cilantro to be more or less Dawn-like. I suspect there’s research on that, but TBH I haven’t looked it up.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Not to laugh at your pain – but that’s kinda hilarious. I mean, if it doesn’t taste like soap to you then you don’t have the gene, and plenty of people hate the taste of plenty of things without a genetic reason, so it makes sense. Still hilarious though.

      3. Kathleen_A*

        Man. I love cilantro. I love it so much that I although I am aware that there are those who hate it, I can just barely make myself believe it.

        It is a great divider when it comes to food, though, so if there are statistics, it might be useful.

        1. Double A*

          Everytime I eat cilantro I feel sorry for the people with the bum genes, because it is so delicious.

          My dad hates cilantro and it tastes like soap to my husband, so I worry about what genes our daughter inherited….

          1. Artemesia*

            When I was first introduced to cilantro which was well into my 30s, it tasted awful, like soap. I remember being at a restaurant and wondering if the oil was rancid or if it was some spice I was unfamiliar with. Over time I have acquired a taste for it and now I love it. It no longer tastes soapy — just yummy.

        2. Kathleen_A*

          Thanks to you both (Double A and Rebecca in Dallas). I feel all validated. I think I’m going to go home and make some pico de gallo.

      4. wittyrepartee*

        I wonder if there’s more than one gene, to be honest. To me, cilantro tastes as mild as parsley. I can’t really understand strong feelings about it. Coriander has more of a taste to me, so maybe people are referring to the seeds?

      5. Freddled Gruntbuggly*

        Stinkbug’s a new one to me, and I can add another to the collection. Occasionally I can faintly detect a vague soap-like taste, but basically my tastebuds find cilantro unpleasantly musky, like a dead mouse hole. I was once comparing cilantro hatred with a friend, and on hearing my description she exclaimed, “Exactly! That’s it!!”

        An utter dish-spoiler, in any event.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      Number of people who say they always drink diet vs regular coke and sales of diet vs. regular coke.

        1. Airy*

          Or the diet drinkers and classic drinkers consume really different amounts/buy their preferred Coke much more or less often?

          1. EPLawyer*

            that’s the beauty of statistics. You can make them sit and beg to prove whatever you want.
            Want to prove more people drink diet coke than regular – boom that’s the report numbers.
            Want to prove people buy more regular than diet — that’s the sale numbers.
            Want to prove people buy diet more often — that’s a different number.

            But all “statistics” that prove a point.

            1. Phoenix Programmer*

              Eh – a good statistician or analyst works hard to account for and dissect these.

              Truth matters – even in statistics.

              1. Psyche*

                Truth matters to a good analyst. But a sales person is more likely to use the number that shows what they want. I love the book “How to lie with statistics.” It shows how to pay attention to what is actually being said and why you should be skeptical and challenge your assumptions.

        2. Cambridge Comma*

          The book I read that includes this example suggested iirc that it was because of perceptions around health and obesity. It would probably be the same for a lot of food and drink choices where one option is healthy and the other not. For example, number of units the average adult claims to drink vs. number of units of alcohol sold per year per adult in the country.

          1. Lena Clare*

            That makes sense

            On a completely separate note, I do think that diet pop is almost as bad for your health as the ‘full fat’ version.

          2. College Career Counselor*

            I think (IANAS–I Am Not A Statistician) that you may run into the 80-20 rule (Pareto Principle?) with that one. 80% of the booze sold is bought by 20% of the population. Statisticians out there feel free to correct me!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Another statistical possibility to substitute — Self-reported number of alcoholic drinks in a night vs actual calculated by a breathalyzer.

    4. Flower*

      It doesn’t get your reporting error, but the website Spurious Correlations (I think by Tyler Vigen) is my favorite for exemplifying misleading correlations.

    5. Engineer Girl*

      I just read a good one. According to one study, 85% of timeshare owners are unhappy with their purchase. According to a timeshare study, 85% of timeshare owners like their purchase. That’s quite a swing!

  8. WS*

    3. Loud public racists/homophobes/misogynists etc. usually are the way they are because they’re not challenged. They really think that everyone except “those people” secretly agrees with them. I recently had to speak to a loudly racist customer in front of other staff and customers and refuse him service: I’m white so he tried to draw me in with solidarity and talking about how he wasn’t *racist*, but [particular ethnic group] are all liars and cheats. I stood firm and he went away.

    1. Woodswoman*

      Second this. In a public space a stranger, a fellow white person, said racist things to about a different ethnic group. I told him that just because I’m also white, it didn’t mean it was okay to say those things and I found it offensive. While I’m sure what I said didn’t change his mind, if it makes him hesitate to spew that kind of hate again, then that’s a good thing.

      Alison’s advice about what to do in the moment if this happens again, as well as following up afterward, is spot on.

        1. Airy*

          Usually the effect on the people who overhear matters a lot more, those who will think twice before saying anything like that around you, those who may even reconsider their own position because they’ve always thought you seem reasonable, and those who’ll feel a bit safer and more comfortable knowing you’ve got their back.

          1. CarolynM*


            And on top of all the good already listed, you may even inspire one of those people to stand up for someone else when they see something like this happening.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Thank you for this. I’m half-hispanic, but read as white. My boyfriend is half-Japanese but reads as white. Both of us have had people spew terrible things to us thinking that as fellow white people, we agree with them. It’s really hard to respond in a way that feels honest for both of us, and I’m glad that there’s someone out there who makes it less likely that these things happen.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          OMG. Yeah, I’m as white as they come (as long as you count Jewish as white) but this right here is why I am uncomfortable in all-white neighborhoods and grocery stores and the like.

          1. Former Employee*

            Except that people who talk that way don’t count Jewish as white. Whether they admit to being KKK/Nazi or just insist that “Alt-Right” is new and different (it’s not), anyone who isn’t white (to them, Hispanic cannot be white) and Christian (generally, not Catholic, either) isn’t welcome.

            1. JS*

              Please don’t ascribe this only to white Christians. Not only is this also offensive, it is also very incorrect.

    2. Jasnah*

      I understand OP’s nervousness about “do I have the standing to say something here.” I think as long as your safety is not threatened, Alison’s language or something to the effect of “please don’t speak about people that way in front of me” is safe enough for most situations, even if there is a power imbalance or they’re a stranger. In my experience that shuts them down faster because you’re not engaging them on the topic itself.

      I hope OP can bring this issue up to the organization as Alison suggested, not just for the sake of justice, but also so that hopefully the staff member can be retrained with scripts and techniques to defuse this kind of situation in the future. I am (optimistically) wondering if they felt as hurt as OP, but felt trapped as the object of the volunteer’s attention. Dog forbid that crapola crayon comes back, OP can model how to shut it down.

        1. Snarl Trolley*

          YES. Delivered with zero trace of humor, preferably, so they have no out to laugh it off like it’s a joke.

          1. AKchic*

            I’ve used “I don’t agree with you, and I am reconsidering my previous positive opinion of you.” It didn’t go over well, and it solidified my new opinion of the person.

        2. Future Homesteader*

          I work in an office where loud rants by people who outrank me are not uncommon, but shutting them down is important (even more than it would normally be). Saving this for future use.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I told my kids that if they want to say something, they don’t have to have a long argument, or insist on changing the person’s mind.
        That all they have to do it register an objection, and I suggested:
        “Not cool, man.”
        And that they can then just leave the conversation–they don’t have to stay in it.
        If they’re stuck at the same library table, they can say, “I don’t need to have an argument with you–I’m just saying that’s not cool.”

        (my 8yo son once came home irate at some bigoted thing some other 8yo had said at the library table about “going back where they came from.” My kid had said, “They get to live here too,” and the other kid said, “It was just a joke.” My little boy said, “Well, it wasn’t funny to me!” He got the right words because he was 8, and righteously mad, and didn’t have any concept that he wasn’t allowed to object)

    3. Temperance*

      This can be difficult when your client is the one saying those things. An actual social worker can chime in with a better description, but it’s harder to parse in a situation where the person you’re working with us disadvantaged.

      I will say that I had a client who was also getting free legal services go on a tear about refugees, and I responded by telling her how much I love our refugee clients and how proud we are to work with them.

      1. Washi*

        It is different, but it doesn’t sound like the client in question was OP’s client, so there’s less of a question of preserving the therapeutic relationship. And even if it were, the OP or other staff could definitely draw some boundaries using Alison’s script; I especially like some type of “please don’t use that kind of language here” if you want to avoid a whole debate about whether what was said was offensive.

        But yeah, when my clients say racist things I tend to either register disagreement and immediately redirect to the actual issue they are expressing, or draw them into a conversation of why they think that, are there any other sides to the story, etc. I wonder if the staff in question were thinking of their response as a binary choice between a verbal smackdown and saying nothing, and chose saying nothing, when there’s really a wide spectrum of ways you can respond in this situation, and a little training can go a long way.

        1. RG*

          Training is crucial! I think that if you have someone that’s going to be working directly with the public, either customer service or direct services in this type of manner, then you need to train that employee on how to handle this type of issue.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Alison’s headline and response says client, but it looks to me like the letter says he was a volunteer. I think that needs some clarification because my feelings are extremely different depending on that. I can absolutely sympathize with a staff member feeling afraid to speak up to a client, especially being unsure what to do in the moment. But if this was a *volunteer* at the health organization he needs to be shut down hard!

        1. Washi*

          Ohh yeah that is different. Definitely a volunteer should get a very firm talking to, and in that case I don’t understand the hesitation of the staff! (I mean, as a former volunteer coordinator I know it’s hard, but you absolutely have to speak up in those situations.)

    4. Zip Silver*

      I ran into this pretty frequently when I lived in Miami. I’m a traditionally masculine looking Anglo male, and was the only Anglo person working in my office for a couple of years. Folks from the different Latin American nationalities and races seemed rather comfortable smack talking other nationalities and races to me. It was absolutely fascinating, honestly. Oddly enough, the most ardent Trump supporter I know is a Venezuelan woman.

    5. Sapphire*

      This is why it’s so important for cis allies to speak up and shut down bigoted comments. Please don’t just rely on trans people speaking up to defend themselves because we have to do it constantly.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        100%. And it’s not always safe for a trans person to out themselves, especially in front of someone who’s just loudly demonstrated how transphobic they are.

    6. OP3*

      Thanks for doing that (I’m also a POC).

      I think calling out bigoted behaviour is so important. Even if you don’t change their minds, signalling that this is socially unacceptable behaviour has huge value.

      I don’t usually have an issue with calling stuff out, but based on some of the other stuff I overheard my initial assumption was that this person was a client, not a volunteer and that (assumed) relationship made the correct course of action less clear to me.

      If it was clear to me at the time it was happening that this was a volunteer I’d have had no qualms about calling it out.

    7. Dasein9*

      I’m finding people sharing the lines they use really helpful. I suspect a lot of people don’t speak up because they don’t know what to say.

      My usual go-to is “Ew, misogyny’s gross.” (Substitute with transphobia/homophobia/racism/ableism, and so on as needed.)

  9. Wild Goose Chase*

    I’m so glad I have a much more positive letter to think about when I associate ducks with AAM! Anyways, to keep every conversation from being 100% duck, maybe consider a “Duck Updates” board, either physical or on social media, so that people can glance at the updates and move on without pestering you. I don’t think that others want you to feel as if your entire life and career has been reduced to your duck responsibilities, it’s just that when people are looking for conversation starters, they jump to the most readily available topics. Maybe after you mention that the ducks are doing well, you could change the subject (“The ducks are doing great! Meanwhile, I’ve been…”).

    1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      1) I am now picturing a Duck Updates board that’s just “Duck Status: Still Very Cute” with accompanying pictures.
      2) Your name is very apt here.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        Duck Updates Board, yes!!!

        Monday: Adorable
        Tuesday: Soooo Adorable
        Wednesday: The Cutest
        Thursday: OMGsquee!!!
        Friday: Cuter than puppies and kittens combined!

        (The last has the added bonus of providing additional discussion fodder, unless the Team Puppy/Kitten/Duck controversy would tear the office apart!)

    2. Ginger ale for all*

      Or how about having a duck cam set up so employees can take a minute or two out of their day to watch them? The company can put their own “commercials” in every so often like shout outs to outstanding employees or certain departments hitting their goals, or whatever. Maybe you can set up a rotation of volunteers who can feed them once a day so then they will be asked about the ducks instead? Each time the volunteer feeds the ducks, they can also update a webpage with a photo, video, or written entry about the ducks.

      1. Some people juggle geese*

        That sounds like a lot of work to set up and maintain for what the OP says is a very small part of their actual role.

        It would be fine to do this if this was something they actually wanted (and their manager was OK with it/it didn’t negatively impact their other work), but I don’t think it solves the problem they wrote about, and it adds a lot more duck-related work to their life. Which, as they are trying to play down their association with the ducks, is probably not the way they want to go!

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      They’re not asking about the ducks because they care about the ducks so much. It’s an easy, obvious way to start a conversation. And after a while, it becomes self-reinforcing, since people have had so many conversations about ducks with LW1. (I have a similar problem with bees. I don’t even keep bees anymore, and it was always more my husband’s thing, but there are people in my life who always always ask about them.)

      1. Crivens! (Formerly Katniss)*

        Hey, speak for yourself! I’d be asking about the ducks because I care about the ducks so much!

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Hello fellow former-beekeeper’s spouse!
        We gave up after losing hives to almost everything possible – from mice & mites to bears & a microburst.
        Last straw was an almost-theft — landowner found deep tire tracks by the bee yard that hadn’t been there when she left. She has two driveways, and we think she scared off someone who hadn’t yet figured out how to undo the tiedown.
        And yes — people still ask four years after we stopped replacing the hives.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, it’s like when you have A Thing You Like and everyone thinks that’s the perfect present for you, until you have to cry uncle. “Yes, I still like pomegranates, but I don’t need pomegranate-themed EVERYTHING!!”

        1. CynicallySweet*

          THIS! My sister went through a phase where she was really into snowflakes (and her birthday is near Christmas). This was probably 14 years ago and she still gets snowflake themed EVERYTHING! Every couple of years I help her go through her stuff to give mountains of clothes, notebooks, blankets, pillow covers ect. covered in snowflakes. She can’t use all of it, and even if she could it’s only appropriate for a couple of months out of the year. If I was the OP I’d start to really reinforce other interests, so that she doesn’t start hating the ducks, which would be a crime! (IDK if hating the ducks is a possible side-effect of this, but I know that my sister loathes snowflakes now, but doesn’t have the heart to tell most people b/c they’re so happy to remember her favorite thing)

          1. wittyrepartee*

            A high school friend of mine had a panda shrine for the same reason. Like- shelves and shelves of panda merchandise. She forgot to warn a new visitor once, and she walked into my friend’s room and went “WOAH, what’s with the pandas?!”

      4. Dr. Pepper*

        Yes, exactly. Just smile, say the ducks are great, and change the subject if you don’t want to talk about them. Consider it part of the social contract, like discussing the weather or a sporting event. Unless you’re a farmer or planning an outdoor event, the weather really matters very little to most people, yet is always the go to topic when none other presents itself. How often do you talk about the weather and how often do you *actually care* about the weather? I’m guessing these metrics aren’t the same. You keep ducks. That is interesting and out of the usual enough to be remembered. People will ask about them. Get used to it and have stock phrases and other conversation topics at the ready.

    4. triplehiccup*

      Yes, the quick pivot is the way to go. My spouse and I have variants of the same name (think Kate and Katherine, and Kate is legally Katherine). About 80% of people we’re introduced to feel compelled to comment on it. Sometimes I head them off (“we’re Kate and Kathryn—yes, same name”), but generally I make a quick joke or just say “yep” and then ask them about themselves. At least the duck questions will stop when you leave this job! It’ll take death or divorce to end the name thing.

      1. Quackeen*

        You give people too much credit. After death and divorce, you’d still have to answer, “Didn’t you used to be married to someone with the same name?” I know a Meg and Meghan couple who deal with the same issue.

        As for the people asking about the ducks…each person has no idea they’re the 8th or 10th or nth time that day you’ve had someone ask about the ducks, just like the customer who jokes “Oh, I guess it’s free, then!” when an object fails to scan at the grocery store doesn’t necessarily realize that the cashier has heard it eleventy billion times before.

        I’d try to gently pivot the conversation. “The ducks are great, but what’s really been taking more of my attention these days is the Warblesworth exhibit! I’ve been working on the social media approach…blahblahblah.” It may or may not work. In a previous role, 25% of my job was a certain training program that I ran, yet many people would introduce me to new colleagues as “This is Quackeen. She runs Training Program.” and stop there, as though that’s all I did.

    5. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I’m reminded of the zoo in Australia(?) that monthly has a good/bad penguin of the month board that someone takes a picture of it and migrates to my facebook feed somehow. That’s awesome.

    6. CleverName*

      Honestly, they ask about ducks because it is more interesting than commenting on the weather. I think a duck update board will just increase the duck comments, because now she has more duck responsibilities. I’m in communications, which falls into marketing in my organization. The general assumption is that marketing = proposals (how we get new work), so when someone is in the elevator with me, and they don’t know me well, they ask if we’re busy with proposals, even though that is not at all part of my job. It’s easier to just tell them how busy that team is, and then say “I’ve been busy trying to get our annual report out. We’re almost there!” It’s more effective than saying “I don’t do that” and it gives them something else to ask me about next time.

      I totally thought this letter was going to be about some weird form of gaslighting. While I get that it’s annoying, I think it is just one of those things. As the novelty of the ducks wears off, so will the questions.

    7. OP1*

      I said so above, but I think y’all are right about acceptance, the polite answer, then quick pivot. They are inherently adorable and interesting, especially so to folks who work indoors, so whatchagonnado.

      We have some light social media for them and others have half jokingly suggested a duck cam.

      I should really just learn to see the humor in it. The other day a coworker told me a longish story about visiting the ducks that culminated in “and they looked RIGHT at me!” I’ll try to look at is as bringing happiness and variety to folks I work with.

      1. whistle*

        This sounds like a great positive approach! Also, hopefully you and your (non-work) friends can start an inside joke where you end every story with “and they looked RIGHT at me!” :)

    8. Essess*

      Plus, everyone else is tired of the same old conversations “How are you”, “So how about that weather”, “Did you see the game” and to them your ducks is a fresh new exciting topic. Unfortunately, that makes it a worn-out topic for you.

    9. FabTag*

      A “Ducks Updates” board is a great idea! Especially because I do not think that inquiries about the ducks are going to diminish. One of the first questions I get from my family members is “How are the cats? We miss them.” Then my Dad always adds “but we miss you more!” But as long as I have cats I expect my family will ask about my cats. They got to know them quite well when I was selling my place in their town as I was bringing the kitties over for a visit whenever there was a real estate showing, and there were a lot of showings!

  10. Sherm*

    #2: Could you perhaps prepare a G-rated version, removing the steamy part but keeping the essentials? For example: “The men in one town say that they’ve had more dance partners than the women have claimed.”

    1. Q without U*

      It’s still heteronormative, though. My first thought would be that the men are dancing (or in the original, having sex with) other men. The conclusion that something statistically problematic is going on is based on the assumption that these are activities that have to be done with someone of a different gender.

      1. Myrin*

        Not to put too fine a point to it since it risks derailing, but that only works for Sherm’s example who said “dance partners” – in OP’s case, the assumption of heterosexual activity is entirely founded because it says “men say they have sex with women”, not just “they have sex, period”.

        1. Q without U*

          Oops, missed that nuance when reading the original post. Thanks for the heads up. I guess that what I get for commenting when I should be asleep instead!

      2. Statistical OP*

        Yep, check your assumptions is one of the first points! But that’s far from the whole story.

    2. moomin*

      But do they?

      It’s a course in statistics. It’s a course in the analysis and interpretation of empirical data. One activity can’t be just replaced by another because the first one doesn’t sound good.

      Btw, the example with sex is super popular and quoted by so many books that I don’t necessarily agree with the answer OP received on that.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        Just because the example about sex is popular doesn’t mean you should keep using it. I had an art history professor who used nudes as every single example, and it got creepy after a while. Like yes, you can find nudes in every period of art… doesn’t mean I signed up for “ogling women 101”.

        Allison’s point re: creepers exploiting this discussion topic is a good one. The example of the majority people thinking they’re better than average is a better example.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I liked Allison’s point re: creepers exploiting this discussion topic, too. We had a guy like that in the office recently (note the word “had”. He’s finally been let go.) He would’ve totally jumped all over that intro.

        2. moomin*

          What does your example have to do with OP’s situation?

          As far as I understand she didn’t design the whole course using sex research and she doesn’t use pictures ;O

          If she had, I would agree this is unacceptable. But using one example, especially one that is so widely quoted, shouldn’t be a problem.

          1. No Tribble At All*

            My comment was: just because you can use a sex-related example doesn’t mean you should, especially in a professional environment.

          2. Geoffrey B*

            Being “widely quoted” doesn’t preclude something from being problematic, and when problematic stuff *is* widely quoted that makes it all the more problematic, because it encourages people to accept it as the norm.

            (Not a judgement specifically on OP’s example here, just questioning this particular line of argument.)

        3. MommyMD*

          I had a creeper college English teacher who brought sex into EVERYTHING. One class he made a statement about his wife “being a cupboard for my see men” and I under my breath blurted “you’re gross!” He was hostile to me the rest of the semester and gave me a C for A work. Creepy people will take advantage. Leave sex out of work.

      2. Kathleen_A*

        I think it’s fine *as the OP used it*…but I find Alison’s final argument – that it could make for some uncomfortable discussions afterwards – very compelling. That is, a speaker using this simply as an interesting and factual example: Fine. Unpleasant coworker talking about the presentation afterwards and relaying this fact with his/her usual unpleasant smirk: Not fine at all. Unpleasant coworker trying to actually discuss this fact: Yuckarama.

        I’m sure the OP can find something just as interesting and compelling that fact that won’t give Unpleasant any ammunition for his/her periodic attempts to talk about sex at work.

      3. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

        Me either. This is a classic in stats classes and I think it i fine for LW2 to continue to use it.

        1. Observer*

          No, it’s not. Because there are PLENTY of perfectly good other example to use. Why use something that could present a problem when you can easily find a substitute.

          I pretty much agree with Allison – this is not something the OP needs to hang their head in shame about, but it really is a good idea to substitute if for something else. And there are lots of possibilities. Which one works best depends on the particular point the OP is trying to illustrate.

          1. Statistical OP*

            The issue is there aren’t any easy substitutes, the ones quoted only cover a tiny part of the ground. It will take several examples to replace it and they won’t be quite as good.

            It still looks like it’s what I’ll have to do, but I wouldn’t have had to ask if there were an easy alternative. (And it doesn’t cast men as deceptive! That’s not at all the point.)

            1. Observer*

              I wasn’t even thinking about these stats casting men as deceptive, but I’m betting that someone is going to complain about that. But, I think that’s going to be true about any set of statistics that covers the potential pitfalls of self-reporting vs recording.

              I think that stuff like the discrepancies of reporting housework actually cover much the same ground – and I suspect for much the same reasons.

        2. MommyMD*

          I never saw it. Also it inherently casts men as deceptive which is not very nice. It’s in poor taste all the way around. There’s every other subject in the world to use.

          1. Starbuck*

            If it’s an accurate statistic and not a misrepresentation, why does it matter if it’s not “nice?” The problem isn’t with reporting the fact, but that the situation exists in the first place. Still, the point stands that it’s not a great example to use in OP’s situation.

        3. Geoffrey B*

          “Classic in stats classes” should be taken as a warning, not a recommendation. The history of statistics is intimately tangled up with the ideology of eugenics, and many of the bread-and-butter concepts that we still use in stats today were developed by people who used them to argue for the superiority of the white race (cf. Galton, Fisher, and Pearson, for starters).

          That doesn’t mean we can’t use those tools, but it’s a pretty good reason to be conscious of the past and approach the “classics” with a critical eye.

      4. Elsajeni*

        Yeah, but in most teaching contexts, there’s no real reason you can’t use a fictitious example as long as you make clear that it’s an example and not a real stat. The real stat might be more compelling, but if you can’t find a similar real example and prefer not to use a sexual example at work, you’d presumably be able to teach the same lesson starting from “An article in the Whoville Journal-Times says men in Whoville report going out on 5 dates a week with women. But women in Whoville only report…”

        1. moomin*

          Using a fictitious example kind of defeats the whole purpose of a statistics course.

          The point of teaching someone statistics, especially in business studies/ customer research/ social studies contexts is to make people analyze factual, empirical data and avoiding basing their decisions on made-up data.

          I’ve taken many courses in stats. I’ve never come across such problems being explained with fictitious examples.

  11. Geoffrey B*

    OP #2: some other examples you might be able to use:

    Statistical agencies survey households to get a picture of what people are spending money on, and they also survey retailers to find out what people are buying. The sales that retailers report for alcohol, tobacco, and gambling are about double what people will admit to buying (because so many people are reluctant to report their true expenditure on “vices”) and the results will differ significantly depending on whether the interview who does the survey is a young man or a middle-aged woman.

    Median-vs.-mean-vs.-mode issues can be illustrated by the good old “average family has 1.7 children” example, and by Spiders Georg.

    1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      Something that I just saw on the internet somewhere that both impressed and disturbed me: there are always pregnant people, therefore the average number of skeletons in a human body is always going to be more than one. (In a similar vein, the average number of legs per person is less than two, as there are generally more amputees than there are people with extras)

      1. Overeducated*

        Wouldn’t that last point depend on whether there are more amputees than pregnant people? :)

    2. SS Express*

      Apparently 40% of people say they go to church but attendance numbers reported by churches show it’s a much smaller percentage of the population.

    3. Sue*

      I’ve seen statistics on housework, you know husbands saying they do 50% while wives say they do 90%..

      1. CantRememberMyUsername*

        This is a good one too because actual time-accounting studies show women do something like 75% (in the US)

      2. SusanIvanova*

        I’m the only person in my house and I don’t even do 90%. If I had a male partner, he’d better be a neat freak because somebody has to and it won’t be me.

      3. SS Express*

        Ooh this is perfect. Annabel Crabb’s book The Wife Drought covers a lot of stats on this, you could use that to find the info you want then check her references for the source. She’s an Australian writer but uses mostly US data (because there’s more available).

    4. M. Albertine*

      In that vein, I’m sure there are statistics on flossing rates as reported to your dentist vs. actual rates, as well.

  12. tommy*

    In #3, it wasn’t a client (of the other organization) — it was “One of the other organization’s volunteers.” The other organization should fully be able to take care of one of their volunteers spewing bigotry in their space.

    1. OP3*

      While the incident was happening I assumed (based on other things this person said) that they were a client. I realized and confirmed later that they were a volunteer (I’m pretty sure they’re both, but they were definitely there in a volunteer capacity that day.)

      My initial email said client, and I updated Alison when I got more info :)

  13. Franny*

    I quit LinkedIn because of a stalker and I’m glad my industry (academia) let’s you get by ok without it. As a platform I’ve found it leaves you very vulnerable.

    1. FuturePhD*

      Have you had trouble with people hunting you down via the school website? I’m headed into a PhD program, and I have an ex who messaged me for years after I explicitly said to never talk to me again, and I’m terrified of being put on the department website and so on :\ But I don’t want to make myself hard to reach, for networking reasons :\

      1. ..Kat..*

        I have heard people recommend using a Google ‘phone number’ for these purposes. That way you are not giving out your real number. But, it does pinpoint your job/school location, which is problematic with a stalker.

        Did your ex stop messaging you because you changed contact information? Or do you think your ex moved on? If the former, probably should not be listed. Your new associates will figure out how to contact you.

        1. FuturePhD*

          I’m more concerned about the email part, and just the general notion of “she works here, you can find her here!” He quit talking to me after I convinced him I changed my phone number (it would’ve been a pain to change it for work reasons, I’m planning on changing it once I get accepted into school), and he seems to never have harassed me via email, for whatever reason. He’d have to travel quite a ways to find me at school, so I probably shouldn’t worry… It’s just worrisome to get harassed like that, I guess.

      2. Cassandra*

        I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, FuturePhD. I’ve had to work through similar problems with students of mine. Things they’ve decided to do:

        * If you haven’t already, minimize your presence in the campus directory. This is a common request, and campus IT should handle it quickly and unproblematically.

        * Consider a different way of representing your name professionally. Initials, perhaps? (If you decide to go full-on name change, which is an option, career-wise-speaking now is a good time — I’m guessing you haven’t published much yet?)

        * If asked for a photo for the website, use a photo related to your work (so, a teapot researcher would use a picture of a teapot).

      3. Info*

        This is not an insurmountable problem, luckily. Depending on whether you are at a state institution, if you are funded by the PhD program, there may have to be a certain amount of publicly available info by state law since state funds pay your stipend. However, that may require only listing your name on the website for grad students.

        Your Director of Graduate Studies may also have some ideas. I’ve met so many people who have had this exact problem in academia, and so have had to do very little explaining.

        Another thing to ask for besides minimal public information is that no one forward calls to your office or cell phones, or to your email. If someone calls asking for you, a message can be taken and given to you later. You will meet people face-to-face at conferences, etc., and can directly give them your contact info.

        If you are in a bullpen office with other students, find one or two who seem to be nice folks, and just mention that you would prefer them taking messages for you for phone calls or drop-ins who come by your office if you aren’t there.

        If this ex pops up and bothers you, the Title IX office may be able to issue a No Contact order which would set into motion more consequences for continued contact. You might bookmark their website for later, just in case.

        Frankly, nothing is foolproof. But these are some small things you can do to set yourself as comfortable as you can.

        1. Admin in Arkansas*

          At my institution, only a name and your campus email needs to be provided so that students can find you via the website.
          When we had a missive sent to all staff reminding us to get our photos taken by the campus photographer, my supervisor advised me not to forward the missive to a particular faculty member, citing privacy restrictions of her face appearing on the website. Not sure if it is an official process or a form one must see HR about, but there is zero harm in asking!

          1. Info*

            Zero harm! And if there is no pre-existing protocol, one can be developed. No bureaucracy deals with these things perfectly, but some things can be done.

      4. AlsoFuturePhD*

        Depending on your state, you may have increased privacy protection in terms of having your information posted online (VA just passed a law requiring students opt-in to have their emails shared). Even if that’s not the norm, I definitely recommend speaking to the person in charge of your department’s website to ask about options there. It could potentially be as easy as getting your information redacted from the school website, if that’s what you’d like to happen.

      5. GradStudent*

        Hey FuturePhD! I’m sorry that happened to you. I had a very similar situation in undergrad but the department I’m in now only ask for my name to be on the website. (also moving over 1500 miles away helped) Maybe you can talk to whoever your advisor will be about the situation once you feel comfortable?

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I lost track of a good friend from college who I suspect had to go ‘radio silent’ to avoid her ex husband. It sucks.

  14. JJJJShabado*

    OP1, although ducks are admittedly cool, I think its just as much the case as when you have short interactions with people, they pick something that they know about you to talk about in passing. I’ve been at my job for 11 years. In quick conversation, the subject towards me has evolved from being new -> going to grad school -> getting engaged -> getting married -> married life -> expecting children -> children. I don’t talk much, so I get away with saying a few words.

    1. On Fire*

      This. It has been almost three years since we finished remodeling our house and moved in, and I STILL occasionally get “so how’s the house going?” I finally started saying, “The house is fine; we finished it two (+) years ago,” which lets the conversation move to “so what are you doing these days?”

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I used to get asked about my punk rock band. I played violin. This went on for years and years.

  15. Always “anon just for this”*

    #5 – Alison, I love your last sentence here!

    So many people can’t give themselves permission to do what’s needed to keep themselves safe. Thanks for clearly and explicitly giving this LW permission in case they feel they need it.

  16. D'Arcy*

    Yeah, the volunteer should definitely be told they’re not welcome back *ever*, and the staff member involved should be talked to.

  17. kua*

    1, you might want to try having a boring, very short response that you repeat without fail. That way, there’s no real reward for asking about the ducks, which might help it taper off faster. If it were me, I’d say, “Just ducky!” or “Still ducky!” in an upbeat tone, then ask an unrelated question. It looks friendly, but I know my coworkers would find it irritating pretty soon…

    1. MommyMD*

      The coworkers asking about the ducks are not doing it in a malicious way. When there is something novel, people are going to ask about it.

    2. Marthooh*

      Yes, having a standard response (plus change the subject if it looks like they still want to chat) is probably the best way to handle it. This turns it into a new version of “How are you?” “Fine.” Just don’t give people a chance follow up on the ducks.

  18. Common Welsh Green*

    Ducks! I’m afraid I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution. So many questions: what kind of ducks? Did you get them as ducklings, or did you hatch them yourself? Have they imprinted on you? Do you have drakes as well as hens? We had the same situation once when a Canada goose decided to nest in the middle of the parking lot and we got the plant manager to barricade the area until the eggs hatched. We dealt with all the questions by making up a little fact sheet and handing it out when someone was interested. Perhaps that might work for you as well.

    1. OP1*

      Welsh Harlequins, ducklings, hens, they know me as the lettuce bringer but are not imprinted.

      I should make baseball cards for them and just hand those out.

    2. Happy Lurker*

      I like the ideas about a white board with info, but that would require updating…yuck.
      I don’t know if you have the budget, but what about a web camera showing the ducks in real time with public viewing in a common area and/or streaming?
      The public really seems to enjoy checking in on live little things.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        Um, I forgot you were in food service…forget my comment. I was somehow thinking a college campus.

  19. Not A Manager*

    #2- “Previously I have based the seminar on the fact that men say they have sex with women much more often than woman say they have sex with men, which is by far the clearest example I have of many obvious and not-so-obvious statistical issues.”

    I have to admit that I like this example, and in my (non-statistician) opinion, it DOES illustrate a number of issues better and more clearly than some of other topics that people have suggested. (I’m particularly intrigued with the idea that everyone is reporting correctly and that many men are having sex with the same few women.)

    I personally think that if, as I suspect, this really IS an unusually clear example of “many” statistical issues, and if you’re discussing them in a non-prurient manner, it probably becomes clear to your audience fairly quickly why you chose this example. And I very much like the idea of ONE example that illustrates many issues of statistics, rather than several different examples each illustrating a different point.

    You say that these seminars have been well-received. If you’ve really gotten good feedback and no complaints, I think it would be fine to keep using this example. You could ask people who’ve actually been to the seminar, though.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      Yeah, it’s such a clear, succinct example – most of the examples I’ve seen suggested above don’t do illustrate quite the same thing, from a mathematical/statistical perspective. (I’m not a statistician, but I do use a lot of statistics in my work,

      I think the key would be to be very matter of fact in the presentation, but also careful about the wording you use.

    2. Mainly Lurking*

      Unfortunately people who have been creeped out by the choice of subject matter won’t necessarily be keen to say so, for fear of being made even more uncomfortable, so asking for feedback after the event isn’t going to give an accurate picture.

      Best to go with a different example – the AAM community have provided you with a few options to choose from.

      1. Elizabeth*

        The community hasn’t really given alternative examples to choose from. As Not a Manager’s comment suggests, there are a lot of great points one can make with the sex partners example that these other examples simply don’t capture. (I also teach statistics.)

        1. Observer*

          Yes, but unless there is a specific reason why the OP needs to use ONE example for all the different issues, that’s just not a big deal.

          And I don’t agree that none of the example provided illustrate multiple problems at one.

    3. Asenath*

      There’s something I read years ago and may not remember correctly – from a public health point of view, how should you best spend your budget on information on and testing for sexually-transmitted diseases when your studies have revealed that you’d probably cut down on a LOT of opportunities for transmission if you could only successfully reach a comparatively small number of the sexually-active population? In other words, some people actually do have sex with a far larger number of partners than average, as measured by reports of sexual contacts obtained after diagnosis. Knowing the reliability of people’s reports on their sexual activity can have very practical uses.

    4. Baby Fishmouth*

      The closest example I can think of is that in households where both parents are working, the man will report that housework is split 50/50, the women thinks it’s something like 60/40, but in reality, women do something like 75% of the housework. Would that be similar?

      1. Yorick*

        Not really, because the difference in the sex example could be due to perceptions/lying, but could also be due to something like gender differences in the number of sexual partners.

        1. Brogrammer*

          But if you’re talking about straight people, there can’t be gender differences in the number of partners. For every new partner a man has, a woman also has a new partner.

            1. Statistical OP*

              Unless you’re considering total number of opposite sex partners, when women will have a higher mean because they tend to live longer and woman-younger-than-man is more common than man-younger-than-women…

          1. Kelly L.*

            But you’re not necessarily talking about straight people, so if (for example) gay men had more partners than lesbians, it could skew the numbers without anyone lying.

          2. Caramel & Cheddar*

            No, that’s not how it works, which is why I’m assuming the LW uses it as an example. You could have one man having five female partners, but those five partners could have only had *him* as a partner. The women can all legitimately claim they’ve only had one partner while he’s had five. [Obviously the permutations of this can get quite complex!]

            1. Brogrammer*

              Sure, when you have a tiny sample size that’s all it takes to skew the results, but that’s not enough data to draw a meaningful conclusion. A large enough sample will also include the corresponding 4 men who have had no partners, bringing the mean back down to 1 per person.

              I’m not ruling out the possibility that the distribution curves are different. But when the mean isn’t the same, that means either the sample is too small or someone is lying.

    5. Trainer*

      I agree – that example can be powerful and instantly understandable. There’s nothing prurient about the statement. There’s a similar example in the training world that I sometimes hesitate to use but have never found another example quite as good.

      The difference between “education” and “training”? Would you prefer to let your teenage daughter complete a class on sex education or sex training?

      (It’s morphed a bit from the original author, but that’s how commonly stated.)

      1. Elizabeth*

        What bothers me about this one is the emphasis on teenage girls’ sexuality as something scandalous and simultaneously titillating. This example would bother me a lot.

        If you rephrased as, “it’s the difference between sex education and sex training” and left teenage girls out of it, no problem for me.

    6. Brogrammer*

      I’m also interested in this question from a behavioral as well as a statistical perspective. The possible scenario of everyone reporting correctly and all of the men just having the same, small number of female partners raises the question of, where are those women and how is it that they never participate in surveys about number of partners? If the survey’s sample size is big enough, at least some of them would end up participating.

      1. Statistical OP*

        I promise I won’t repeat my whole seminar , but ensuring a survey reaches marginalised groups and adjusting for groups less likely to respond if reached is one of the reasons we have statisticians instead of a computer programme.

      2. clunker*

        If you assumed a good representative sample, this would be mathematically impossible. If women of the small number of women with many many male partners responded, in proportion to their proportion of the population, they would raise the average of their group proportionally in a way that would result in the same average as men.

        Therefore you have to deal with either people who don’t respond to surveys based on their answers (thus skewing your sample) or people being wrong/lying/using inconsistent definitions. (It’s possible that men count things that women don’t, it’s possible one group lies more, it’s possible that both groups lie the same amount but in opposite directions)

        This example is really good because it’s proof that something’s not good about the data, it’s just a question of what.

    7. clunker*

      I agree that none of the other examples mentioned are quite as good– and this being a factual statistic makes it stick with people in a way that changing it to “Men say they have danced with more women, women say they have danced with fewer men” would make it lose. I also think that the “dancing” change of phrasing can still be an opening for the creepo to make the same comments as before.

      The main issue I have with this example is the opening for a creeper comments. But I also don’t see any possible equivalent that is as obviously understandable and illustrative of the same issue.

      It’s also an example which I recall being used in multiple math/science classes, matter-of-factly. I think that also brings the issue with changing the example more- I think there’s a good chance that the creeper will either already know this fact or they’ll be able to intuit what the “dancing” example got changed from.

      I disagree with Alison that it’s obviously something to avoid, but it does depend on your judgement. I would consider the demographics/expected demographics of the people in the room, what I know about the gender dynamics of the group. For example, if I was doing a presentation for my current team where this would be a great example of an issue, I would never use this example because I’m the only woman on the team and I know I’d get the creeper comments from at least 1 person. On the other hand, if we had a more equal gender ratio, I think I’d be more likely to use it.

  20. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

    I fear that the duck questions come from the same place as the supermarket customer who, when an item doesn’t scan, quips “I guess it’s free then!”, as if the cashier hasn’t heard that a million times before, and at least a thousand since the start of that day’s shift. In other words, people aren’t being deliberately annoying asking after the ducks; they may be under the illusion that they are the first person to ask – and so are slightly confused by that little twitch under your eye when you hear the d-word.
    So, a universal update once a day/week (whatever your workload allows) is probably a good starting point, possibly in the form of a sign: “Thanks for your interest in the ducks. They are cute and feathery and just through that door if you want a look. Also available to discuss X, Y, Z (job related)”.
    But, yeah, this might be a case of riding it out until the novelty has worn off. How long ago did you get the ducks?

    1. Aerin*

      When I was at The Mouse, we would constantly have people ask us if people fell in the river of the Jungle Cruise. There was just something about the fact that there was nothing between them and the river but me that would prompt that question.

      There were two times I snapped. The first was after I’d worked something like 110 hours in two weeks at the height of summer, all on Jungle. Someone asked the question, and I responded, “Someone falls in about once every three or four months. Someone asks me that question once every three or four minutes.”

      The second time it was this teenager, and something about his bratty tone set me off.
      Me (in my sweetest voice): Oh, that’s really nice. When Indiana Jones is closed, do you ask them if someone died?
      Kid (smiling sheepishly): Yeah.
      Me (even more sweetly): That’s okay, you’re just a terrible person.
      The filter that usually keeps me from saying that sort of thing out loud: Wait a minute what did I miss NOOOOO
      (Thankfully, his parents laughed, so I knew they weren’t gonna go complain.)

      In short, the pain of having the same conversation over and over and overandover is something any customer service position knows very well. There’s a certain point where they just become part of your preprogrammed response where you can go through the motions without needing any involvement from your brain.

  21. Anancy*

    #1 Are people asking about the ducks because they are really curious and into the ducks, or are they asking as a general conversation opener? If the latter, perhaps a brief answer of “The ducks are great! I’m also really enjoying selecting our winter desserts / excited about the upcoming event / loved the gazpacho you created.” (Or whatever else is interesting about your job or their job that you want to talk about.). I’m aiming towards a policy of redirecting them instead of shutting down. And hopefully next time they will remember ducks and tiramisu and ask you about both.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’m not good at talking to people, so yeah, if there is something unique like that I will use it as small talk. I never realized it could annoy people, because I’ve always been told it’s a good thing to ask people about themselves, their hobbies and that kind of thing. But I suppose if 300 people do that, you would get tired answering the same thing every time.
      And this is why us introverts have such a hard time of it. You never know what is cheerful small talk or what pisses people off at any given time. I remember once asking a co-worker how she was enjoying her new house (she had recently purchased it about 1 month prior) and my God, she like screamed at me that I was being nosy and it was none of my business. I mean, jeez!

      1. Washi*

        I think that if everyone had asked about the ducks 1-2 times, that would be fine. But it sounds like that’s the only question over and over, so I think it’s more a matter of remembering not to ask the same question a million times (pretty easy) vs. guessing what will piss people off (quite hard.) Your coworker who screamed at you for asking about her new house was the one who was out of line, unless there’s missing context, you never could have guessed that!

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Nope, I asked in like once or twice (in a slightly different way) over maybe a month’s time. She was kind of a bully to me in that way, but not to others in the office and not only about this. I don’t know why, as I always thought she was very smart and good at her job, and I was always polite to her. Even other people in that office noticed how I might say or do something innocuous or small-talkish and she would just like snap and berate me over nothing-stuff. [like knocking on her door to ask a question, making coffee, transferring a call to her, the way I talked or phrased something, etc.]
          It was weird. And when you’re already kind of introverted, it makes you not want to try and talk or engage with people at all because you fear you’re doing something wrong or missing social cues that make people mad.

          So either I just rubbed her the wrong way, or she was jealous about a close relationship I had with another coworker who became like a big sister to me (what I might suspect looking back on it all – LONG story and nothing romantic-it wasn’t that type of relationship).

  22. moomin*

    # 1

    I hate small talk and never know what to talk about so for me your problem would be a perfect situation.

    What a pity I can’t get ducks for our finance department.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I nearly splorked my coffee. Thank you for that.

      Appropos of nothing, my daughter discovered that there is a National Rubber Ducky Day this month. That kind of duck might go over well. ;)

  23. Typewritergirl*

    #2 That’s also just not a very good example, as it’s based on anecdata. If you’re running a stats intro I would stick to examples you can actually evidence.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Except that that may not be what you are aiming to do. I doubt that LW #2’s job involves analysing how frequently people have sex.
      The example is a useful starting point for looking at things such as how and why data and therefore the statistics from it may be unreliable, the importance of trying to eliminate those errors, why raw statistics are unlikely to be the best way to measure outcomes or base future work on, and can probably lead on to issues around how people behave differently when they are being observed / reporting on behaviours.

      LW, if you have other clear examples I would consider using them instead, for the reasons Alison set out, but if this is the clearest and most likely to enable people to understand the points you need to teach them, then keep using this

      1. Statistical OP*

        Indeed, and it is well evidenced (googling ‘Why Do Men Report More Opposite-Sex Sexual Partners Than Women?’ will get some reasonably SFW papers).

        issues around how people behave differently when they are being observed
        I cover retrospective v diary approaches but had not considered observational studies in this instance. That’s one discussion I’m definitely not having at work.

    2. Frozen Ginger*

      It’s not anecdata; it’s data from a self-reported study. And thus it makes a great topic for a stats intro course because self-reporting is used so frequently, but as this example shows self-reporting is very flawed.

    3. All Stitched Up*

      I assumed part of the point of the example was the limitations of self-reported data and how social pressures can lead people to misrepresent themselves even in situations where there aren’t really any social stakes (assuming the surveys are anonymous.)

    4. Dankar*

      Anecdata would be stories collected first-hand by the OP, without any scientific procedure or structure. This is self-reported data, collected by poll, that looks, on its surface, to be unreliable. It’s likely that that’s the reason why the OP is using this as an example, as it illustrates several issues with relying on self-reported data, statistical impossibilities/un-likelihoods, and the fact that a single data point can be interpreted to support multiple conclusions.

      All of those things are what likely make this an excellent example for OP to use. We used this stat in our 101 course. I feel that if college students are mature enough to handle such an example, professional adults in a training session should be, too.

  24. Duck Duck Boost*

    #1 To a certain extent, I think you should just view talking about the ducks as part of your job. If it’s your responsibility to look after the ducks, and they were brought in partly as a morale-boosting gesture, then consider chatting about them as one of your responsibilities!

    I do sympathise though, and people would probably get more of a boost from just going to see the ducks themselves. Have you tried to encourage that through signs as other people have said – maybe post a little fact sheet of each duck telling people what their personality is? Even if it’s fake, it could be hilarious!

  25. Alica*

    Not the OP, but I work somewhere where there are ducks! My boss built our work next to his house, which is in a rural spot, and his partner keeps chickens, ducks and geese.

    The good
    – She occasionally gives us eggs which is a lovely perk!
    – They’re pretty tame, I have picked them up before. They usually get more reticent as they get older. New chickens will totally hop on your arm however. We have also had baby chicks in the office before (usually the runt that the mum is ignoring. We get a cute tweeting fluffball in a cool bag that we occasionally take out and have a stroke).
    – they might all have names but I don’t know them.
    – I kinda wish I’d taken a pic of when the new ducks/chicks hatched this summer hadn’t figured out the difference between “person who feeds us” and “anyone”. You’d be leaving at the end of the day and be surrounded by a swarm of little chickens!
    – she also has two cats who occasionally come in for a visit. Not in the office itself, but in the corridor or the shop floor. I have a pic of one of them chilling on a radiator somewhere.

    The bad
    – the geese are evil. They’re not too bad unless the females are sitting on eggs. There used to be 3, there is now 7 or 8. I have whacked them with my handbag before if they’re getting too aggressive.
    – if you have the window open in summer, the chickens know and come and crow loudly when you’re on the phone to a client.
    – they’re very free range, which means the yard is covered in bird muck. Lovely.

    1. media monkey*

      they used to have watch geese for some bonded warehouses (where they keep whisky while it is aging) near where i am from in scotland. geese are vicious! (and don’t get me started on swans)

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I have read that some celebrities have been known to keep peacocks for this reason — they’re very territorial. They’re also pretty in the background photos.

        1. LQ*

          When I was very very small I got mauled by a peacock. Luckily I was little enough that I don’t remember. But yeah, they are monsters.

          1. media monkey*

            my brother got attacked by a swan when he was about 2 or 3. i hate them (and there are loads where i live – i don’t get too close!)

        2. kittymommy*

          Oh jeez, peacocks. We used to have wild peacocks in my neighborhood (rural). Those were some evil little bastards. Whenever they were on the property they wouldn’t let me leave my grandmother’s house to walk across the yard to go home.

      2. Pippa*

        My grandmother used to swear by guinea fowl as watch animals. People wouldn’t even get out of the car in the farmyard until someone came out to deal with the guineas.

    2. Bagpuss*

      geese are excellent at security. There is a legend about how the sacred geese saved Rome from sacking by the Gauls, in around 400BCE, by alerting the defenders to an attempted sneaky night attack.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I hate geese so much. They will come right at you. And they poop everywhere and their poop is GREEN.

    4. Autumnheart*

      We’ve got wild turkeys all over the place. There’s a flock that hang out about half a mile from my office, and another big flock by the airport, and basically they’re everywhere. And like geese, they just hang out on corners and walk nonchalantly into traffic and make everyone wait.

  26. LGC*

    I feel terribly for LW1 because I’m fairly sure that they’re not aware of the…history ducks have around these parts.

    Also, because I also want duck pics. (I have less shame in asking since this isn’t my column.)

    With Letter 2, I’m a little on the fence. As a stats nerd (and okay, my gender plays a role in this too), I think the point in LW2’s example is that self-reported stats can be unreliable, and social pressure is a real thing. (You’d expect it to be roughly equal – probably not exact, if one gender is having more same-sex encounters – but since same-sex and non-binary sex is probably a small minority of all of the sex going on, it should be roughly equal.) And the other major real-world example I could think of off the top of my head (the Bradley effect) is also controversial. (For those that aren’t familiar, the Bradley effect basically states that in the US, more people will say they’ll vote for a black candidate than will actually vote for that candidate. This has…been shown to be less true than was thought especially in the run-up to the 2008 election, but it’s still fairly well-known.)

    On the other hand, I would like to think of myself as mostly aware of sexism and an ally in fighting it. (I’m not perfect by any means, but I’m trying to do better.) And I can definitely see where using sex examples (especially in a business context) would make people feel uncomfortable. In that regard, I totally agree with Alison – it probably wasn’t the best example to use. (And I feel like I wrote a lot less in favor of the response than I wrote against it – just let me say that I actually did wobble. I initially leaned towards a “UR OFF BASE ALISON,” but then I caught myself.) For better or for worse, sex is a really fraught topic in the US, so even though the example isn’t about sex itself, that’s what some people might hear – and yeah, I think that’s a valid concern.

    Thinking about it, I’d probably use an entirely contrived example if I were you and doing this again. But also, I don’t think it was the worst thing in the world to use sex.

    1. foolofgrace*

      And I can definitely see where using sex examples (especially in a business context) would make people feel uncomfortable.

      I’m far from a prude but it would make me uncomfortable, to the point that I’d miss the following content/context because I’d be so preoccupied with the uncalled-for example. No sex in the workplace, please.

      1. Cassandra*

        Yes, and because sex is such a fraught topic a lot of the audience will have to tie up some cognitive capacity wondering how they should react to the example. Should they object? Can they chuckle? Will the creeper three seats down take this as an invitation to creep, and how should they handle that? Ugh, was this the only example available?

        So even if it’s not itself harassing (and to be clear, I’m in the pool that thinks that it could contribute to a harassing environment), this example will distract people from what it’s meant to teach… and that’s suboptimal pedagogy. I strongly suggest choosing a different example, wholly unrelated to sex.

        1. No Tribble At All*

          Agree, it’s a topic I don’t expect to hear about in my workplace, so I don’t trust myself and my coworkers to be mature about it.

          Also — and yes, this might be sexist of me — it depends on who’s giving the seminar. As a female engineer, I’d be annoyed if a guy used that example while I’m at a training with mostly guys. It would come off as “those mysterious women amiright” or “men are dogs, we’re always thinking about sex.” Please just use a different example.

      2. LGC*

        I mean, even if you look in the comments of this post, you can see this come up! And…to be honest, while I personally wish that the word “sex” wasn’t a distraction, in many cases it can be, as you yourself state. (And this is value neutral! There are a lot of reasons why people have issues with sex being discussed in any context at work, and they’re valid. To be honest, the only reason I wasn’t more upset with the sex thing is because the math distracted me, which says way too much about me.)

        But…man, it’s hard for me to think of examples like that that aren’t goineg to have similar issues. Maybe shy Tories? But even that might not work.

    2. cajun2core*

      “… duck pics”. I *love* it. Right after mentioning the previous duck posting, oh, so funny!

      1. LGC*

        So I got up super early and typed this at 4:30 in the morning and did not even realize what I’d done until it was too late.

        Suffice to say, this is one of the very few times “duck pics” was typed intentionally and unironically.

  27. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – I think the duck questions are probably just a variation on the “I acknowledge you, fellow human” message that most greetings or small talk mean… with the additional going above the usual to have a remembered connection.

    Hopefully seeing it as a personalised version of commenting on the weather may help? And other chats can lead off in just the same way!

  28. Best cat in the world*

    OP#2, I think my favourite stats quotes from my stats lectures at uni were:
    ‘73% of statistics are made up (including this one)’
    And the headline from a national paper which was something along the lines of
    ‘Half of all schools are below average’

  29. Someone Like Anon*

    Op1: Ducks are an unusual pet choice. You have a unique fact about yourself that makes it something people are able to remember easy. Therefore it’s such a unique fact that everybody readily recalls that when they talk to you and it uses that as a point of conversation.

    1. Someone Else*

      They’re not pets here. They’re owned by the business and used for business reasons. OP is just in charge of them.
      It’s like if the only thing you knew about a coworker is they’re in charge of the copier and every time you see them you ask them how the copier is. Ducks are more unusual/interesting than a copier in the workplace, but it’s the same premise “the only thing I know about X is she deals with Y; therefore when I see her, I shall ask about Y.”

  30. Jack V*

    OP1, I don’t think you can easily stop people commenting on the ducks, “Hello, fellow human, how is [the one thing I know about you]” is such a universal form of minor social interaction, I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. But FWIW, I imagine that people who aren’t known for ducks, probably don’t have as many people talking to them *at all*. Often people don’t say anything to coworkers they don’t already know or work with at least somewhat regularly.

    But things that might be possible:

    * Prepare more specific comments. “Oh yeah, Dovetail has been laying well recently but Quacker is off her feed.” Hopefully opening up to better conversations, albeit about ducks.
    * Redirect to other small talk (about work or personal lives). “Oh they’re fine, but gosh, have you heard about packing reorganising the delivery shelves?”
    * For people who talk regularly, if you’ve established some other topics of smalltalk, it’s ok to ask if they’d lead with those because you’d like a change from tlaking about ducks (if you can, say this in a joking way). But if there’s nothing else to suggest, or it’s people you don’t see often, there’s not much you can do other than replying “Fine, but [thing you’d rather talk about]”. You sadly can’t issue a company-wide edict to head it off in advance.

  31. londonedit*

    OP1: yay, ducks! People just love it when they have something reliable to use as a conversation starter, and most of the time I don’t think people think about whether the little fact they know about you is still relevant, or the fact that literally everyone else is probably saying the same thing. It’s like how people end up with a house full of frog ornaments, because they once said they liked frogs and now everyone buys them frogs for their birthday. I was a football (soccer) referee for a couple of years – I haven’t done any refereeing for nearly 10 years now, but it was a Memorable Thing about me and still when I see people I don’t interact with on a regular basis, they’ll ask about my refereeing.

    I think the idea of having a duck update board is a great one, but people will probably still want to talk to you about the ducks, just because it’s a novelty!

  32. Thez*

    I have a similar issue as OP #1, at my job I am working on understanding and controlling the odours from producing cannabis. (I’m in Canada). A part of this role had meant I need to understand the rules and requirments around production. Now I get called “Cannabis Queen” and asked a lot of questions/comments. My suggestion to OP#1 is accept it and make it into a joke. It is better to be interesting and people think about you rather then blending into the background.

  33. Rebecca*

    #1 I have nothing of use to offer the OP, except, I would love this. I have a ground hog (gopher) who lives outside my office window. It’s borrowed a hole under the sidewalk, and it gives me great joy if I happen to catch a glimpse during the work day :) There’s something neat about critters in general and it makes me smile to see them while I’m at work. So cool that you have ducks!! Aside, my manager has already asked me not to feed or name it…she knows me!

  34. Oh Dear*

    #2: I rescued the Parking Lot Chicken from work and she now lives with my other hens.

    It’s all anyone asks about. But it’s really people I don’t work directly with who ask- and they don’t know what I do anyway.

  35. MommyMD*

    Seriously the most unique and exciting thing about your job to most people are the ducks. Instead of feeling resentment, embrace it.

    1. AnaEatsEverything*

      I think OP1’s point is that the ducks are not her entire identity. If you happened to live on a hill with a beautiful view, you could both enjoy that view and get tired of everyone identifying you as “MommyMD with the house that has the nice view”. There is more to OP1 than ducks, and I don’t think we should reprimand her for wanting to talk about other aspects of her life!

  36. I coulda been a lawyer*

    As someone who has worked for and with quite a few sexist jerks over the years, I had no problem at all imagining them saying that they have to have sex with me because statistically it’s true according to this coworker. Because making it your fault would be the only change from their typical comments so don’t give them more ammunition. I’m also amazed at the people who crawled out of the woodwork to claim that the ex who punched me in the face would never do that and then proceed to attack me as well. Thankfully the police, the judge, the jury, and my employer were supportive; I hope the same is true for you OP.

  37. Mrs. Fenris*

    OP1, I’m reminded of an episode of “Sports Night” where someone was the victim of a minor assault. Everyone in the office was concerned about her but nobody really knew what to say, so everywhere she went for a few days she was asked, “how’s your wrist?” When her supervisor said it, she made sort of a deflated gesture and said, “Fine. My wrist is FINE. What I want to talk to you about is…”

    I’m a veterinarian so I get a lot of the sane comments over and over from people. Plus they’re kind of trivializing. “See any cute puppies today?” (Yes, and I also did a really cool surgery that I OWNED because I’m a good surgeon.) “Hey, do you ever give people doggy downers?” (Um, behavior consults are part of what I do, yes, and sometimes I use medications…real ones like people get.) All that to say, I’d probably say “the ducks are fine” in the same flat tone every time and quickly change the subject to a less cutesy aspect of your job.

    1. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!*

      Can you be my BFF? I really need a vet to be my BFF.

      1. Mrs. Fenris*

        You can be my BFF if you like ME as a person! Otherwise, I have plenty of people in my life who just want to know “a vet,” not me in particular. Your post made me a little sad. :-(

        1. Mrs. Fenris*

          So…I keep thinking about this comment, and all I have to say is, please don’t ever actually do this to someone. I assume you have access to a vet through the normal channels. Please promise you won’t seek out someone socially with the purpose of having access to “a vet,” or really any professional, outside the normal channels (free/after hours etc). It’s a thing that has been done to me, it’s very hurtful, and since I’m a socially awkward person who’s been struggling with feeling isolated, this didn’t hit me in a good place.

          1. Move Over Thrawn - Florian Munteanu is BIGGER than you!*

            I am very sorry you obviously took my offhand comment as more than a joke. I wasn’t serious. Yes, it would be nice to have a vet as a friend, but it’s not my nature to use people.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP1 … Check the statistics — if your ducks are paying for themselves, this could help you move up in the restaurant. ;)
      -Each duck is averaging 150 eggs a year for our restaurant.
      -Our head chef is pricing duck-egg dishes 20% higher than chicken-egg dishes and they always sell out.
      -We’ve had 137 survey cards from patrons who said they are eating dinner with us more than they used to because they like to visit the ducks.

      If you want to avoid the topic, act like you assume that people who ask about the ducks are volunteering to help care for them. “We clean the cages at 3pm, between lunch & dinner rush. See you then!”
      “Our biggest challenge is that we want to let some of the ducks hatch their eggs, but we have to decide what to do with the male ducks. How are you at plucking?”

    3. anonymous 5*

      I believe it was the 20th-anniversary documentary of the US womens’ gymnastics team’s 1996 gold medal in which Kerri Strug mentioned that people still ask her how her ankle is doing. OP1, you may have a long road ahead of you…

    4. BethRA*

      That must be frustrating, but like the Duck Whisperer, you could use the inane into to redirect to what you so want to talk about. E.g. – “seen any cute puppies today?” “No, but did this really cutting-edge surgery called xyz, and it was awesome….” For added fun, you could start describing the proceedure. It’ll either make the conversation more interesting for both parties, or gross the other person out and dissuade them from ever asking again.

  38. Falling Diphthong*

    Is there any way I can get out of having this same insubstantial conversation 10 times a day for the foreseeable future?

    No. But you could try using it to pivot to those other aspects of your job that people don’t ask about. Model the conversation you would like to be having.

    “How are the ducks?”
    “The ducks are great! They engaged in a one line anecdote. And I found something interesting on the spout cuddler data…”

  39. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

    You could start with “the ducks and I are fine, thanks. How are you?” and move towards things like “the ducks and I have been watching a lot of basketball. Did you see last night’s game?” or “they like this snow better than I do, because they don’t have to commute to work. How are you handling it?” Or similar answers that assume the other person is looking for a [they think clever] version of “Hi, how are you?”

    Or something like “they’re still feathered. How’s your rice sculpting project?” or “I’ve tried asking, but all they ever say is Quack. Meanwhile, subject change].”

    1. Serin*

      “the ducks and I have been watching a lot of basketball. Did you see last night’s game?” or “they like this snow better than I do, because they don’t have to commute to work. How are you handling it?”

      This is brilliant.

      “They’re fine, because they don’t have to be involved in the audit.”

    2. wittyrepartee*

      Or invent some soap opera level of drama for them. “We’re in an argument about my project. You see, Mr. Mallard thinks ____ and Quacks is pushing for ________”

    3. MJ*

      Or go the other way…

      “The ducks. Oh my god, they like do like the cutest things. I said good morning and one of them like quacked back at me, right when I said. Like he knew what I said and was like answering me. So I like said good morning again and do you what happened? He like quacked at me AGAIN. Then like one of the female ducks quacked at me. It was like we were like saying like good morning like to each other.”

      Be the person others say “don’t mention the ducks” about you. (Adding in the “likes” makes it doubly annoying.)

  40. laura palmer*

    OP #3: Am I the only one who read this as more blaming the staff who didn’t shut it down that the volunteer spewing such vile comments? I think the staff was wrong to not say anything, obviously, but I thought the wording didn’t emphasize how shocking and grossly inappropriate it was to hear those things in the first place. I think the volunteer should be told never to return and the employee on notice, but much heavier focus on it being wrong to say those things.

    1. Colette*

      I agree the volunteer should be let go, but the OP has no control over the volunteer or the employee, and I think addressing it at the employee level will help prevent issues with clients as well as volunteers. This is one of those situations where you have limited pull, so it’s a good idea to ask for the highest-impact change that you can get.

      And once the situation is raised to management, there’s a reasonable chance the volunteer will be gone anyway.

      1. pleaset*

        Where I live (New York State), organizations have an obligation to protect employees from harassment such as that speech, even if the speech is made by a client, vendor, or person sharing the space. It it was a one-off thing, it might not be a big deal, but if it’s recurring, in a properly set-up organization, the OP could complain to HR, and HR would be legally required to try to do something about it.

        1. Colette*

          But this is another organization, not the one the OP works for – and there are multiple ways to achieve that goal. Educating employees on how to stop it in the moment will come closer to achieving the goal than firing a single volunteer.

    2. MLB*

      I didn’t see it as her blaming the staff, but OP is right in that they should have done something. The person was a volunteer, and they should have shut it down. People will spew hateful things, and the only thing that will make them think twice before doing it is if they’re confronted.

    3. OP3*

      While the incident was happening and when I wrote in I was under the impression (based on other things I overheard) that the person making the bigoted remarks was a client. I found out later and sent an update that they were a volunteer (probably also a client, but volunteering that day.)

      The remarks were totally unacceptable, and I think volunteers have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a way that is professional and appropriate.

      If a client is behaving in a way that harms people around them, I do think it’s the responsibility of staff to do something to intervene, and make sure that the environment is safe for other people.

  41. Koala dreams*

    #1 That’s the nature of small talk, most people use the same phrases all the time. The good thing is that you don’t need to say anything special in response, a “They’re fine as usual, have you seen anything funny on tv recently?” is a perfectly fine response. The bad thing is that it isn’t going to change. If not the ducks, people would ask about your health, your kids or your commute all the time instead, and it would get boring too.

  42. Marthooh*

    * Mustn’t ask about the ducks, mustn’t ask about the ducks, mustn’t ask about the ducks… *

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      Honestly I was thinking this was more of Dwight Schrute situation when I saw the headline, that her co-workers are always boring her with the merits of the mighty mallard.

  43. Doodle*

    OP #2: Absolutely NO, do not use sex as your example for your presentation. Completely inappropriate (I’m leaning a lot harder on this than AAM), and you are going to make some people uncomfortable and come across as skeevy. Even if you were younger this would be true. There are so very many other examples you can use.
    We had a dean who would do this — using stats or data about sexual activity in a pres where the topic was not in any way related to sex. Years ago. Guess what everyone remembers him for? (Hint, it is not the very good initiative to improve student graduation rates.)

  44. Sans*

    #4 – Only one concern – if your college changed its name a while ago, and you’re concerned about age discrimination, that might be a problem if you put the old name down, and it changed, oh, 25 years ago. It would be a shame to do things like leave older jobs off your resume, leave off the year of graduation, and then use a very old name for your college.

    1. TootsNYC*

      My college changed its name, and I am considered now to have a degree from Truman State (the new name). So I just put that. I used to put “formerly Northeast Missouri State University,” but I leave that off now, because it’s been so long. And because no one to whom I am applying will recognize the old name now. (Regional change, and it’s not a famous university, though perhaps more famous under its new name)

      Anybody who wants to check on my degree with the institution will want to contact the right institution, and they institution will either say, “Yes, she has X degree,” or they’ll say, “She earned her degree when our name was NMSU,” and either way I’m good. Because once they changed the name, the degree attribution changed as well.

      1. Someone Else*

        The reason I generally find it the other way around (as Alison suggested) is if they for some reason ask to SEE your degree (which has happened to me), the degree itself usually says whatever the institution was called when it was issued, unless you graduated the year it changed. If they contacted the institution, having told them either Old Name (now New Name) or New Name (formerly Old Name) will get them where they need in either case. But if you say you have a degree issued by New Name when it was issued by Old Name that’s not true and can look bad.

        1. Software Engineer*

          I’m OP for this one, and my college has changed names a number of times. It’s gotten to the point where the transcripts have an asterisk at the bottom explaining the five (!) different names that have been in use in the past. Thankfully, the name that is in use now is internationally well-known, so I just go by that one when asked.

  45. Hey-eh*

    OP1, this was me at my old job except with social committee. I created the committee (of one, myself) and it was such a small part of my actual job yet there were a few people in my office I didn’t work closely with that Any Time they saw me would just want to talk about past or upcoming events. Usually just to complain about them or suggest things but then not want to help!! It is exhausting. I would typically say something short about it and then change the subject which worked for that conversation, but I could always count on the conversation opener with these people to be about social committee.

  46. Hlyssande*

    My brother and sister in law have ducks and goats on their little plot of land and I admit, I always ask about them. They’ve had a fair amount of drama with both sets of animals so it’s exciting to hear about.

    But I can totally see how it would get really old. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any way for the LW to get around that. Maybe it’ll die down once the novelty wears off a bit and maybe they can communicate to close friends that the ducks are fine for reals and to stop asking, but.. it’s going to come up anytime someone new learns about it.

  47. Jennifer*

    LW1 I see why it’s annoying but understand their fascination. I want to ask about the ducks too. Maybe answer the question and quickly change the subject. “The ducks are adorable. How’s (name of project they are working on) going?”

    About the sex question – you could use bad drivers as an example. I read an article that stated most people think they are good drivers but few of us are. I believe it.

  48. foolofgrace*

    #1 I got us a small flock of ducks for fresh eggs and general merriment

    If I were in a restaurant and ordered eggs, I would not be happy to be served a duck egg without warning.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      First thing, I’m sure if they were served they would be listed as “duck eggs”. That strikes me as a pretty standard thing. But second… why? I’m honestly curious.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I had to wonder if this was some high-end place? I don’t know too many restaurants that serve duck eggs in general.

    3. London_Engineer*

      I’m pretty sure duck eggs are generally more expensive /considered a fancier food item than chicken eggs . Not sure where the suspicion of the nefarious egg substitution is coming from

      1. Carrie*

        If nothing else, duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs; nefarious substitution would be giving food away for free.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      OP doesn’t say anything about serving duck eggs to unsuspecting customers. I would assume her restaurant is on the higher end and has them as a choice on their menu.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        It’s possible she is not in the US either. I believe duck and quail eggs are more common offerings in Europe. But I’m sure they are not swapping eggs!

    5. Arctic*

      That is such an odd assumption to make. Why would they not advertise the type of egg? A lot of people are willing to pay a premium for duck eggs.

      1. bonkerballs*

        This is just me, but duck eggs specifically make me sick (like every time I’ve eaten them I’ve seen in them in reverse about 10 minutes later). Any other type of egg and I’m just fine which is good because eggs are basically my favorite food.

        However, I’m with everyone else that it’s an odd assumption that OP’s restaurant is secretly feeding people duck eggs without their knowledge.

      2. rogue axolotl*

        Duck eggs are actually quite different from chicken eggs, so it’s quite possible that some people who normally are into eggs might find them a bit weird. The texture in particular is pretty different. But duck eggs are wonderful to bake with because they have more fat.

  49. MissDisplaced*

    “The ducks are great thanks, How about X?” And change the topic, or just “The ducks are fine thanks!”

  50. Triplestep*

    #5, or anyone else who has reason to be concerned about having personal info online: Linkedin has pretty good privacy controls. It is actually possible to be non-searchable and to appear to the public via your first name, last initial, and have no photo.

    I actually have a second Linkedin profile that is set up this way – I took on some consulting work recruiting professionals in my own industry for a boutique staffing firm, but I didn’t want this to be obvious to current employer. Unless I connect with you, you don’t get to know my last name or see my photo. And of course I am intentional about connecting with people from that profile – 99% of the time I am doing the reaching out; not the other way around.

    1. Jennifer*

      I wouldn’t trust privacy controls in a situation like this. Her life could be at stake as well as the safety of her coworkers. She’s doing the right thing.

      1. Triplestep*

        I didn’t get “life at stake” from the OP but of course everyone needs to decide for themselves, which is why I directed my comments to anyone who is concerned about personal info online.

        1. Jennifer*

          I understand. Violence against women is something that I am very passionate about and I just know how quickly these things can escalate. I don’t mean to be an alarmist.

    2. Arctic*

      I’d always assume privacy controls are complete garbage if you have a real fear of being found. We are always learning things after the fact about failures of social network privacy controls. For most of us, it’s not the end of the world. But if you have a real concern you shouldn’t bother.

    3. epi*

      No. There is more to LinkedIn privacy than just what is visible on your profile. They have been in the news several times for misuse of user data or giving misleading information about what data was being collected. I got an email from them just the other day telling me about the job activity of an old contact I barely even remembered– a contact from an old email address I didn’t even remember sharing with them. That included her job title and place of work. Others have probably gotten similar ones about me.

      Most recently, LinkedIn was in the news for violating European data protection rules in the lead-up to GDPR. They obtained millions of email addresses of people who weren’t members of the site, probably from users’ address books, then used those to buy targeted advertising on Facebook without users’ knowledge or permission.

      Like Facebook, LinkedIn has a history of pushing boundaries with user data and even the data of non-users, changing privacy settings and UIs in ways many users probably wouldn’t opt into if asked, and only walking it back if caught– after genie is already out of the bottle on individuals’ personal data. If someone has a safety reason not to want a LinkedIn profile, restrictions on who can view what are just one piece of the concern. And there is nothing stopping LinkedIn from making changes to those settings in the future that the OP would not be comfortable with.

      1. Triplestep*

        For what it’s worth, it’s likely that you got an e-mail about an old contact due to HER careless use/sharing info with Linkedin. Every once in a while I will get a connection request from someone I barely know and think “oh, this person probably just downloaded the Linkedin app and stupidly clicked ‘yes’ when the app asked if they wanted to see who else they know on Linkedin”. The app will then mine your e-mail address book and send invites to anyone you’ve ever e-mailed since the beginning of time. I have helped several young people in my family set up their Linkedin profiles and I warn them never to fall prey to this.

        1. Jasnah*

          This is actually why I think OP should avoid Linked In. Because even if OP is perfectly careful with her own data and never slips up, anyone with her email address or a connection to her is a vulnerability.

          Remember when Facebook had that big leak and you could check if your data had been compromised? I am extremely careful with my online presence and never connect apps or websites with Facebook. But one of my Facebook friends did, and therefore my public info was mined: name, photo, perhaps email and location? That’s plenty for a stalker if they can ever get their hands on it.

          Plus every connection you have on social media can be spear-phished. “Hey OP is an old friend from school, do you happen to have her email?” This is easier to do when all it takes is a Linked In message–could even be from a fake account.

          I don’t mean to be a fear-monger, but I really think it’s safest for OP to stay off social networking sites if her goal is to make herself harder to find/socially network with.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      You can also create a profile under your work email, and not put in your real name. I used to do this and use “Social Media Manager for X Company” or something like that with no name when I managed pages I might not want to be associated with later because it was freelance work.

      Unfortunately, you do need a LI account if you’re being asked to manage the company pages. I don’t know if that’s why she’s being pressured, but it’s a way to get around it.

    5. Hmmm*

      I am in a similar situation to LW5 and I have a LinkedIn with the privacy controls set extremely high. I also never put my current employer or what city/state they are based out of. That information is updated after I leave. Former employers also don’t have the city/state so I can’t be tracked. Luckily I have worked for large companies with multiple offices so I can get away with this easier.

      LW5, it is perfectly reasonable to not mention anything about safety to a boss if you don’t want to. I am questioned occasionally about why my LinkedIn and other social media is so locked down. I tell the questioner that I like to curate my online footprint. Especially with the data mining and breaches that have been in the news, you have multiple examples of why someone would not feel compelled to put everything on social media.

    6. Ladysplainer*

      I’ve also been advised not to put information about where I live or work online. (I’ve needed to press charges against an individual who certainly seems to have the right friends).
      Unfortunately there are people who can’t respext boundaries and I’ve been in situations where some freakshow gets TRIGGERED because my company is confidential. (Like my not-quite-right exboss who is on my profile literally every day). It rather cements my decision.

  51. Amairch*

    Personally, unless I work in a field where this kind of discussion is part of my work (say, sex education, women’s rights in developing countries, assistance for abuse victims), I just don’t want to be reminded of sex at work. I don’t discuss my sex life with my coworkers, even if we’re close. I get that it’s an interesting example, and I’m sure it’s amusing for many, but I feel like the risk (and impact) of alienating people who don’t find it funny is great enough that it’s worth finding other statistics. At work I like to act as a completely asexual being.

    And, I think it matters more that you’re at work with coworkers who presumably have to interact with you again in the future. For example, this would be a great statistic for a TED talk, where you’re talking to a huge crowd who doesn’t have to interact with you again or where you’re not influencing the culture of their daily lives.

  52. Dr. Pepper*

    #1: Grin and bear it. When you work with animals, that will be the only thing most people remember abut you, and therefore it will be THE topic of conversation when they feel the need to make small talk. Just…… learn to love it. If you REALLY don’t want to talk about the ducks, just smile brightly and say they’re great and immediately change the subject. I’m afraid the onus will be on you to talk about other topics, so have some on hand. You cannot stop people asking without looking like a huge grouch, and unless you’re fine with being not just the Duck Person but the Crabby Duck Person, you cannot stop the questions. And if people stop, it won’t be because they respect the fact that you’d like to talk about other things, it’ll be because they think you’re a jerk.

    I speak from a lifetime of experience.

    1. They are just acknowledging you*

      Pretty Much this. I used to work with a first time pregnant younger lady who was was also a first time manager who I know was bombarded with questions about her upcoming baby so she had the idea to hand people a notepad with the usual questions and answers about the baby. One of our larger clients was in the office and asked if she knew what she was having and she handed our client her notepad. Our manager told our client her baby’s information was in the notepad, and our client handed the unopened notebook back and informed our manager that she was making small talk to be nice to her out of common courtesy but she didn’t really care. Most likely the same thing with the ducks everyone is excited about the ducks they are being nice and talking to OP since she brought them.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Wow, what a rude response! Isn’t part of the social contract surrounding small talk not letting on that you actually don’t gaf if that happens to be the case? That client was a sour puss marinated in vinegar and wrapped in phony baloney! Because how dare you react to my “I really don’t gaf question” with actual information. Ugh.

        1. Jasnah*

          I agree this was a rude response but I’d argue that it’s even ruder to respond to a social gesture with a FAQs booklet. It’s like stating “I’ve misunderstood others’ kindness as maliciousness/idiocy, so I’m refusing your common courtesy and taking out my frustration on you.”

          Seriously, how do you respond when you ask “how is the baby” and she says “read the notebook”? I’d be shocked into silence, but I can’t really blame the person for assuming the mother had no interest in upholding the social contract.

  53. Kate*

    From now on I’m going to sum up my feelings about small talk with “the ducks are always fine.”

  54. Diddodid*

    Re: The ducks. It’s not just the ducks specifically, I think. It’s that people know you have the ducks and it’s the easiest piece of smalltalk for them. I had a baby fairly recently and that’s what most of my coworkers ask about – how’s the baby? Even the CEO. I can go to them with a specific report or analysis and the smalltalk is always “how’s the baby?” The baby’s great, but not the only thing about me. My suggestion is to come up with your own smalltalk that veers away from the ducks: Hey did you hear about the cheese surplus? How was your vacation? What are your weekend plans? etc etc.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Yes. Many people at work know that I have a bazillion cats and I’ve had chronic back pain for over a year. Since they don’t know me well, that’s their choice for small talk because they can show interest quickly and easily. They ask how the cats are doing, how many do I have now, when is my next pain management procedure, how’s my back feeling, etc.

    2. Triplestep*

      Exactly. People who don’t have ducks at work get comments about the weather, local sports teams, etc. The only difference here is that ducks at work are more of a novelty, but trust that other people have to put up with small talk as well.

  55. Goya de la Mancha*

    #5 – do people really USE LinkedIn – for other than like a professional version of Facebook? I have one, but honestly I’ve never thought I NEEDED it, just thought it couldn’t hurt.

    1. We do!!!*

      We have only been hiring from LinkedIn for about 2 years now we haven’t even used the online company applicants. We post the job on Linked In and then choose from there, we get more than enough qualified applicants and a good majority can be recommended by someone in the company. Last year we let our department recruiter go because we are able to get a better subset of applicants through linked in and that position was no longer needed, and were able to use that money to get another FTE to do work. We are piloting it for our state this year and next year hope the whole East Coast side of the company is planning on utilizing Linked In and not a formal recruiter.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve actually switched to LinkedIn as a replacement for Facebook. I dropped Facebook during the last election and haven’t looked back, it was just too infiltrated. I find I’m less inclined to comment on LI unless I have something to say, AND more importantly I keep it professional as people can see where I work, which cuts all the nasty stuff that goes on within Facebook.
      I also use LI a lot as part of my job, connecting with potential clients and doing research, and this is not uncommon for some fields. This kind of makes it hard for the OP if her job requires LI like mine does, because you have to have a LI account to manage the corporate pages. However, she can create an account under her work emails using something like “Social Media Manager, X Company” and use it solely for work purposes. I’ve done that at a few places where I was freelancing and/or didn’t want to have my actual name associated with. You can use a company logo as a profile picture or stock photo.

  56. Drax*

    #1 – I am part of the problem apparently as well, ducks. I am wondering if you’ve ever offered to take them to the ducks when they ask? Like when they go “how are the ducks?” you’d say, “oh they’re great, do you want to see them?” and while you’re out there, just casually throw out “you know you guys are welcome to see the ducks whenever you please, feel free to just come out here” and give them any tips they’d need to know – my aunt raises chickens so in my case she usually lets people know that Ms Betsy is a Jerk (with a capital J), she likes to chase children, will take any chance at freedom she can get in order to chase children (and maim you in the process), and will peck your butt if she can get it so watch out!

    It’s a friendly way to let folks see the ducks without you having to talk about it. Also, I think they’re just trying to be friendly and ducks seem like a nice neutral topic. My coworkers know I have a second job at a car dealership, and that’s one of the main things they ask about as it’s one of the few things they know well about me. It’s not that I don’t exist out of it, it’s just that’s all the know about me

  57. Jen*

    for the OP with the LinkedIn issue. I see a lot of profiles where only a first name is displayed. You could do something like that with no photo, and nothing to personally identify yourself. You could even use a nick name, your middle name and even add a generic last name. There are always ways to lock down your profile so only people you add to your network can see additional info, but I am sure that stalkers have a way of getting around that so going with something generic that doesn’t identify you might be the way to go, to keep you safe and satisfy your employer.

    1. Thrown into the fire new manager*

      That is a really good idea. We are a small start up and head count matters if someone looks us up. I dont use much social media but I am on linkedin for this reason

    2. A Non E. Mouse*

      For someone who is worried about being found/stalked, I’d be afraid of what information adjacent profiles gave up.

      The entire point of LinkedIn is professional networking, and studying a network would easily provide immense insights into where you live, where you work, and who you know.

      A person so inclined could then get close to someone *in your network* to then find out the rest of your details.

      It’s why those disconnecting from abuse usually need to scorch the earth and provide no information to anyone who might accidentally relay what sounds like unimportant information to an abuser.

      1. JSPA*

        I suppose someone could have a professional name that’s completely different from their legal name (this will vary by country, and even perhaps by state?) But if the goal is to include skills that are in ANY way uncommon… past work experience that names any actual company and position…ANY past contacts…or if the person’s specialty in itself is rare enough to be searchable, it’s probably not worth the risk. I’d tell the boss you’d been cyber-stalked in your personal life, and didn’t want to take the risk of that happening again. It’s not false (even if it’s incomplete) and it keeps boss out of your personal life (because cyberstalking can happen to anyone).

  58. We had Geese*

    #1 I’m so sorry but honestly Ducks at work would be an awesome distraction. Your only way to stop or slow down the duck talk would be to quit and never bring cute animals into work ever again. Shamefully if I worked there and saw you out IRL I would still ask you about the ducks or introduce you as the Duck lady. I’m sorry.

    We had Geese who are jerks during mating/baby goose incubation time and my office had a window and I would get to work early and we would congregate in my office and watch people navigate in trying to avoid being attacked by geese. I’m a horrible person but I cheered when the Geese would find the employees and chase them, videos would commence if there was squealing from the people running. For 2 months a year all we talked about were the Geese, 5 years later I’m in a different office and my co-workers that worked in that building with me we still commiserate over the Geese. For 1 month one winter we had a group of skunks that was also a great source of entertainment.

  59. Bopper*

    Duck lady:
    This is common..people see you and think “Duck person” and then ask about the ducks.
    You could try “Ducks are great…But what did you think about Clemson beating Alabama?” or “”Ducks are great…But I am volunteering to help people register to vote…are you registered?”

  60. Lia*

    OP 4, you may also be able to get another copy of your diploma with the new name on it. My undergrad institution changed its name, and offered all alumni who had graduated under the old name new diplomas either free or very cheaply.

    For the nearish future, I’d use New Name (formerly Old Name) if the change was in the last 5 or so years, but eventually, you can transition to solely the new name.

  61. wittyrepartee*

    In his book Reamde, Neal Stephenson says that bears are the black holes of conversations. If you start a conversation about bears, you’re stuck in that conversation for the rest of your time with that person. Maybe the same is true of ducks?

    1. TootsNYC*

      and people who collect penguins (me) or frogs (my mom) or place a cool turtle figuring on their desk are now in the black hole of gifts.

  62. learnedthehardway*

    LW5 – you can block specific people from seeing your profile on LinkedIn in the privacy section. This may not be enough to stop someone from going on under another person’s ID to see your profile, but it should prevent your exSIL from casually looking you up.

    More importantly, please consider that almost any employer you have will take a complaint made against you by an ex-inlaw with an axe to grind as the ravings of a lunatic. You wouldn’t even need to disclose the circumstances of the split with your ex, just that “Oh, that person is my former SIL. She took it really badly when my ex and I split up and has gone out of her way to make my life difficult ever since.”

    If you have safety concerns re your ex, then obviously, staying of LinkedIn is the way to go. But if it’s more reputational concerns, in the case of a vengeful former SIL, I think you can rest assured that 99% of the world is going to know who has a screw loose.

    If you decide to stay off LinkedIn, in my experience (and I use the tool a lot in my work), there are plenty of people who do not use LinkedIn at all, and even more who don’t keep their profiles current. I wouldn’t let your ex or ex-sil prevent you from using the tool, if it would be an advantage for you (and it could be), but it’s not the be all and end all, either.

    1. Observer*

      This is true *if* your employer is REASONABLE and (has appropriate processes in place or the SIL identifies herself as such.)

  63. TooTiredToThink*

    OP – 1: The first comment suggested Twitter – which I think is cool and all and along the lines of what I was going to suggest -but it means they have to seek it out whereas I’m getting the impression that they think of it because they see you- can you put some sort of visual on your desk. Base the visual (a chart maybe?) on what they are actually asking about. Maybe something like “We Got X eggs Today” or whatever. But then; I’m also wondering if you can give like a brown bag lunch presentation on what its like working with the ducks. Y

  64. Dust Bunny*

    OP4 I wouldn’t worry about this. It’s the kind of thing that should be easily verifiable by any interviewer with any sense. Just put both names.

  65. Lady Phoenix*

    I love how #1’s conplaint is people talking about her ducks… and yet here we are talking about her ducks! XD

    I think something that could mitigate this (and maybe be good business) is to make an instagram for the ducks? One that is for the business? Be good advertising.

    Then you can have a sign about following that instagram and they will be a little less incluned to be so gaga over ducky.

  66. greenius*

    LW #5, absolutely stay off Linked-In. I recently logged in to my account, which hadn’t been updated in 3 years, only to be greeted by a photo of my *mildly* abusive ex. Apparently, he had checked my profile less than two weeks ago. I was in a tailspin for days, and I don’t have any suspicions he would try to hurt me.

    For your own mental well-being, as well as your actual safety, just stay off.

  67. Hope*

    LW1, you said you got them for the eggs and “general merriment”. For your coworkers, that merriment is likely to manifest in asking you questions about the ducks. So…not that I don’t agree it can be annoying to only be asked about the ducks, you did kind of bring it on yourself.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Oh, that’s a good point! This IS the merriment… it’s just coming with an unexpected downside.

  68. Didi*

    OP#5 – Your position is totally reasonable. I used to have someone who reported to me who’d been the victim of a stalker on and off. He did not use any social media and someone could find very little about him online. Eventually the stalker figured out where he worked and she started mailing things to him at the office. He asked (and we agreed) to pay for a post office box where he would receive all work-related mail (things like benefits and tax documents).

  69. Another situation #4*

    For #4, does that also work for companies that have changed their name (not gone out of business) since you worked there, when listing it on your resume? For example, I worked for Llama Groomers Are Us, which has now changed their name to Perfect Llama Grooming. So, should I list be listing:

    Perfect Llama Grooming (formerly Llama Groomers Are Us)
    Llama Groomer, Start Date – End Date
    Here’s what I did as a llama groomer

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I wonder about that too, as my former company was a division of a very recognized larger company I might want to be associated with when applying for certain jobs. I was actually hired as an employee of the larger company, but my division was then sold and went public.

        Mini Llamas Inc. (formerly a division of The Mega Lama Company)
        Chief llama wrangler, Start Date – End Date

        1. JustaTech*

          But if your company was part of a very large company you *don’t* want to be associated with, can you just use the company name and leave off “wholly owned subsidiary of EvilCorp”?

      2. Powercycle*

        I have to do this with many public service jobs I’ve had since the Canadian government is notorious for re-organizing or re-branding entire departments with every other administration.

        Even within some of the projects I list.
        “Upgraded X system at Department ABC (now part of Department XYZ)”

  70. Blue Eagle*

    To the lady with the ducks (and sorry if anyone else already said this because I didn’t read any of the comments yet)
    – many people are not asking you about the ducks because they care about the ducks, they are asking you because it is something about you that they know and are trying to be friendly. How about when you answer about the ducks, include something else either about yourself or about them – – something like
    ~~ the ducks are great, do you have any animals? or
    ~~ the ducks are great, have you seen any good movies lately, I just went to see ____ and really enjoyed it. or
    ~~ the ducks are great, I wish I had as much time to do crocheting (or whatever you enjoy) as I have to spend with the ducks. So now they can ask you about crocheting (or whatever).

  71. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    LW 1: I think you’re just going to have to live with the duck thing (happily, I think Alison’s right that it will peter out and the ducks will become background noise rather than front-and-center-excitement).

    Here’s the thing: the ducks are novel, and interesting to lots of different people (with lots of different jobs). The rest of your job, unless it’s unusual in some way, is… probably not that interesting to most other people. The folks I chit chat at work rarely ask me about the specifics of my job unless it affects them, is especially cool (VP Biden attended our event — everyone wanted to hear about that), or, if they’re a close friend or are unusually thoughtful, if they know that something in particular is worrying or exciting me. My job just isn’t that interesting to most folks, and that’s ok.

    (My sister, on the other hand? Just the name of her employer is enough to get people excited and jealous. Folks ask her about it all the time. But her job is just a job, and although she oversees extremely cool things, her days are mostly spent on budgets and performance reviews and grant reports and strategy meetings.)

  72. MatKnifeNinja*

    LW #1

    The ducks are sort of white noise, and in the background for you. Everyone else is like OH COOL, DUCKS!

    I feel your pain because I drive a Smart (car). Living in the land of the SUV and pick up trucks, so I am ALWAYS having people ask me questions. I did not anticipate this issue. People always seem to ask when I’m in a rush, or dying to use the restroom.

    95% is usually people wanting small talk. 4% want stats (I’m not a car person, so I point them to the website). 1% low level jerkiness. My car is sort of white noise to me, nothing special. For whatever reason, it pinges people interest and they want to talk about it.

    I have a quick small talk thing I rattle off if someone asks me a question. Almost always people are happy with that. Your small talk could be make up 7 signs

    Arrow pointing to where they are at.
    Mood: Content (or whatever thing would work for a duck)

    Just rotate the signs out.

    If someone me about the ducks, I’d probably say, “Living large and looking good! How are you doing? /Can I help you?”

    I would have suggested maybe a Twitter account for the ducks, and just point people to there, but that’s just me.

    I’ve got two attractive nuisances. My car and a not so common breed of dog. If I take my dog in my car, guaranteed someone will stop me with a question. I can get aggravated or just roll with it.

    Be friendly, do a quick drive 1 sentence about the ducks, and have your conversation.

    Good luck!

  73. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    LW 2: There are TONS of examples that illustrate the same point you’re getting at with the sex thing, so I’m definitely side-eyeing the example you chose. You’ve obviously realized that you’re not comfortable with it either, so I’m glad that you’re not using it any more.

    1. Statistical OP*

      There really aren’t!

      There are other examples that illustrate *one* of the points I’m getting at but there’s a whole lot of other issues I cover with this that are much harder to find examples for (like major outliers with unusually low response rates if they’re even on your sampling frame in the first place) and nothing I know of covers so many of my points.

      However using lots of different examples as I go through seems to be the safer option, if somewhat less efficient.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, I think that using a lot of different examples is better than one “master” example. Because it helps to illustrate the incorrectness of one of the classic mistakes about statistics. The more examples, from the more types of situations you come up with, the clearer it becomes that statistics are not “just numbers” that are essentially unrelated to people’s lives – and that’s why it’s IMPORTANT to understand how this stuff works.

        Also, the wider the swath of examples, the more likely you are to get someone who’s a bit resistant to have that “aha” moment where they connect to the concept and the power of statistics.

      2. Didi*

        Having studied stats myself, I think multiple examples are the way to go anyway because they keep the audience interested and they give people something to relate to. Textbooks have dozens of examples you might be able to draw from.

        In one class, we all did an analysis of the deviation of M&M colors from the standard the manufacturer claims. Everyone bought a bag of M&Ms, we did our own bag’s deviation by color and then compiled the whole class’s deviation by color. Then we ate the M&Ms.

  74. Elizabeth*

    OP#2, if you need a similarly intuitive measurement error example, would the missing 5’11” men work? (They all say they’re 6 feet.) It has the benefit of showing up visually, too, in a histogram.

    Age heaping might work as well, but I think men’s heights might have the virtues of your sex frequency example without the downside.

    1. Someone Else*

      I’m not sure if this illustrates exactly the principles OP was getting at with the sex example, but the number of 5’11” men who self report at 6′ vs the number of 6′ women who self report at 5’11” (or frankly, 5’10”). That said I’m suggesting that because it seems to me, a non-stats person, somewhat analogous to the impression I got from the example she cited. It’s possible there are all sorts of mathematical points she intended to make that have gone completely over my head in this comparison.

  75. Strawmeatloaf*

    Don’t take this advice:

    If you want people to stop asking about ducks, you could start talking about certain parts of their anatomy… or point people to Zefrank video on ducks on youtube.

  76. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    This is only vaguely related to OP2 but I love it: When I took my first stats class in grad school my favorite example was that there is a statistical correlation between spider bites requiring medical attention and the years that Nick Cage movies come out. The plots mapped really well onto each other, it was incredible.

  77. Anon For This*

    #1 – This is sort of a, “life in the public eye,” question, albeit on a small scale (the OP’s work place). OP did something noteworthy, something that people appreciate, and they made a name for themselves within their organization. So they’re experiencing what it’s like to be known for one thing.

    There are different ways to deal with the discomfort that comes from that, some more constructive than others. First, remember that the interest is evidence that you did something important and people admire you for it. Instead of directly shutting that down, try to build on it. Can you use this as a stepping stone to do other cool things, at this job, outside of work, or at a future job? Could you start a newsletter or video series about the ducks and make it available somewhere, either within the company or outside (but maybe only giving co-workers access)? Or, even in conversations, could you use the ducks as a segue to talk about other things that you want to talk about?

    Being in the public eye is weird, especially if it’s for something that seems random or not something you want to be known for. But you don’t have to be the ducks person forever. This is just one job. Take this as a sign that you’re good at making cool things happen and sparking people’s interest, and take that in the direction of your choice.

  78. TiffanyAching*

    OP#3, if you feel comfortable this may be something you could bring up with your manager or HR as relating to harassment — the legal definition of harassment — especially if it occurs more than once. Sex and sexual orientation, perceived or actual, are protected categories in my state. Also, the harassment laws in the state protect employees not only from harassment by coworkers, but also by volunteers, contractors, visitors to the location, basically anyone in the space. If that’s true in your location too, then the company has a legal responsibility to make sure you don’t have to hear that kind of garbage at work, even if it’s coming from another company’s volunteer.

    1. OP3*

      I’m in Canada. :)

      I brought the issue to my ED who took the issue seriously and spoke to the other organization’s ED. Thankfully this is the only time I’ve encountered this kind of behaviour in the office.

  79. Formerly Arlington*

    I doubt anyone cares that much about the ducks–it’s more about wanting to interact with you, to be friendly! So I’d change the subject and share a little more about your non-duck life.

  80. Kristine*

    #5 If your ex and ex’s sister have Linked In accounts, you could create one then block them both. If they don’t, you could set it to show details only to someone logged in. Of course if other people around your ex are involved, it’s not worth it to set one up.

  81. hello*

    OP #4

    This also might be a good conversation topic when it comes up in interviews, if it’s a local school, people might commiserate with you about the name change. I think Alison’s advice makes it so clear and straightforward to anyone reading your resume. Good luck and sorry your college changed names!

  82. Needs More Cookies*

    The problem I see with the sex example is that there are less light-hearted explanations for the discrepancy. People might not recall having sex due to alcohol or roofies or traumatic response. Victims of sexual assault may not even consider those incidents to count as “sex” in the context of a survey about relationships and sexuality.

    1. gwal*

      Those are totally reasons not to include it in the presentation–emotionally heavy and potentially reminders of trauma! I think the OP could find another example that would also contain dimensions of recall bias and miscategorization bias (which you described) that wouldn’t be so traumatic.

  83. Carlie*

    Person: *question about the ducks*
    Reply, straight-faced: “I can’t talk about the ducks. They get angry when I talk about them.” *nervous look over shoulder*

  84. The Bimmer Guy*

    Maybe you could do a periodic (weekly) update on the ducks, like maybe on a blog, and then have a canned response (“They’re right outside”) to anyone who asks about them in the interim.

  85. Yourethicsconfuseme*

    Start making bad duck puns. Then spend five minutes laughing at yourself, fake crying (or real crying if you laugh at your own jokes like I do) and then start walking away, still laugh crying like all thought has left your body. Repeat every encounter. People will stop asking.

  86. Anonandon*

    I worked at a place where we had nesting geese in our parking lot. Everyone was obsessed with the geese and when their babies would hatch, so the security guard at the front desk set up a goose-cam that people could access from their desks. I kind of stopped liking them, though, when the gander chased me from my car one day and started hissing at me. The security guy thought that was hilarious and a video clip made the rounds of the company. I was called “Goose Girl” for a while. :(

  87. Lucille2*

    #2 – I’ve seen at least two separate presentations at conferences that include the exact same statement: “‘Insert-new-industry-technology-here’ is a lot like teenage sex. Everybody talks about it. Everyone thinks everyone else is doing it. So, everyone claims they’re doing it.”

    So I’m not in the least bit jarred by your example. I mean, people remember it, right? But you could say I’m a lot like
    you and after following this blog for awhile have started to readjust some of my expectations. I guess there are those out there who would find these statements inappropriate in a professional setting. Also, you really have to know your audience.

  88. Independent George*

    #1 – People love the ducks! I admit, I would probably hang around to watch the ducks on my breaks. I used to work in an office that overlooked a field with sheep. People loved watching the sheep, especially when they trained the herding dogs. It’s weirdly calming.

    Maybe you can promote the ducks at work somehow? You could celebrate their birthdays or something silly just to lighten things up. Or if you need help with duck-related tasks, it sounds like you wouldn’t have trouble finding it. I know you’re looking to downplay the ducks, but I say embrace it and take it up a notch.

  89. HereToMakeMoneyNotFriends*

    OP #1 – As a teenager I worked at a fast food restaurant next to a feed store. The owner kept his family of chickens in the back. Every day during our lunch rush, a dozen or so chickens would run onto our drive-thru and engage in general chicken behavior.

    Every single customer, without fail, would pull up to the window and make the same joke: “Hey! Is that where you get your chicken nuggets?”

    Funny the first time, not funny the 437th time. I’d always laugh when kids said it, but I got so tired of hearing it from adults. I feel your pain, OP.

  90. Lucille2*

    #5 – You can always take an information-security approach when telling people why you’re avoiding social media like LinkedIn. You can simply say you’re not comfortable putting personal info like job history on a public website. That way, you can avoid the discussion about personal relationships and keep it to maintaining control over your personal info.

    Or, if you feel you could benefit from a LinkedIn profile, you can maintain some security controls over what people see on your page who are not directly connected to you. IMO LinkedIn is better than other social media platforms about maintaining control over your info’s security.

  91. Zookeeper*

    When asked about the ducks, you must say, “They’re just DUCKY! Ha ha ha!” Say this every single time you are asked (try really hard to make your enthusiasm and laughter sound genuine), and people will get tired of receiving the same silly response after a while.

  92. Â*

    Haven’t read all the comments but I just wanted to say to the duck-lover (not to be confused with the Lovers of Duck Club) that you could just print out your question and Alison’s response and hang it in the break room. Done.

  93. MamaSarah*

    LW 5 – I have lots of “no’s” when it comes to social media. I do not list where I work, where I went to school, who I am “in a realtionship” with, I didn’t use my actual birthday. It’s always struck me as a lot of info for random people to know without me telling them. These days FB seems like a total time suck. I think it’s totally fine to not use linked-in, even more so given your past. Yeah for you for moving forward! Hugs!

  94. Marilyn*

    You shouldn’t bring sex into the workplace, no matter how well the example seems to convey the concept. Think about it – as soon as you bring up that example, you have a room full of people who are visualizing sexual acts at your prompting. That’s the last thing you should want in any business setting.

  95. CleverGirl*

    Asking “How are the ducks?” is the same thing as asking “How are you?” It’s an opener to making small talk or something said to being polite. I’m currently pregnant and literally every time I see a coworker I get asked “How’s the baby?” even though there’s literally nothing I can say except “Good” or “great!” or “Wiggly.” I just see if for what it is and respond accordingly. Most people aren’t expecting a *real* answer to the “How are you?” question, just something along the lines of “Fine, how are you doing?” or “Great, how was your weekend?” or something. You could answer the same thing to the “How are the ducks?” question. I doubt anyone is expecting a long drawn out conversation on the ducks, and if they were they would ask more follow up questions about them. People who are actually interested in my unborn child do this. I say great, and then they ask something else like if I have any more ultrasounds scheduled or if I have my hospital bag packed, or some other detail. Most conversations (like, 95% of them) go more like:
    How’s the baby!
    Great, really moving around a lot. How are you?
    Tired of being at work already. Is it time to go home yet?
    Haha, sadly no, but it’s almost lunch time. And tomorrow is Friday! Any fun weekend plans?
    Not a whole lot. Going to a movie. What about you?


    I feel like you are getting unnecessarily worked up about being asked about the ducks. Just treat it like any other small talk conversation opener. It’s people’s attempt to connect with you by showing that they are aware of something specific to your life. Please don’t be rude or short with them.

  96. KJP*

    Re: ducks–I think you need more animals–like chickens, goats, etc. that will give people many things from which to choose.

  97. T*

    For #1: I know I’m coming to this late, and someone has probably already made the suggestion, but what about having people in your workplace sign up for a session where you give them duck orientation? They could meet the ducks personally, maybe feed them some corn (my friends’ ducks love corn), and find out what they day-to-day duck situation looks like. Then you could end the session with an overview for you plans with the ducks and maybe a tactful request not to be asked repeatedly about them. You could maybe follow up with a weekly duck digest with any changes they (the people) may care about.

  98. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#1: This has been hashed out pretty well by other comments, but I wanted to second the idea of the ducks speaking for themselves. Let the ducks communicate directly with their fans through their own social media site–I would prefer Instagram for the ducks, since everyone will be interested in photos of of the ducks. Maybe you even have a creative, funny co-worker who would be interested in taking on that side project (of posting for the ducks). Then, when asked about the ducks, just direct people to the duck Instagram to find out the latest on the ducks. People will still ask you, though. And even though you believe there are a lot more interesting things about you, to a casual acquaintance, the ducks may truly be the most interesting thing about you, or at the very least, the most memorable thing about you. I would also encourage you to embrace the ducks, psychologically. :)

  99. trisha*

    For number 5 you can limit the amount of info on linked shows up when people search your name. The basic info that shows up is “Name, number of connections, industry, and region”. You can also set it so your name doesn’t show up on google ether. I would also go and block that person as well.

  100. KEMcL*

    When I took statistics in college, almost all the simplified examples involved ducks (IE brown ducks vs white ducks) so I think it’s funny that separate issues/ letters have to do with ducks & statistical examples in this post.

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