my employee keeps editing my work — and it feels like a power play

A reader writes:

I am a relatively new manager who is quite a bit younger than my employees (I am mid-30s, my employees are late 40s/early 50s.) One employee has developed an annoying trait of “doctoring” all my documents that I send out. For example, if I write a policy and procedure for one of our tasks, he’ll go through and make minor changes — literally things like adding the word “the,” or changing “Teapot design team” to “Teapot Design Team.” Most recently, he edited an intake form I had created by putting in more spacing for a couple of the fields. After he edits these, he sends it to me and the rest of the team with a “Let me know if this is OK.”

I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong with these minor tweaks, but it seems to me that he just wants to get the last word in. He expressed displeasure when I was chosen for this role, and my boss seems to think he has also trouble reporting to me because of some sexist elements (I am female.)

I certainly don’t want to discourage my employees from pointing out things in my documents and spreadsheets that are incorrect, but these nit-picky things on everything seems like a power play. I don’t even know how to tell him “Quit making meaningless changes” without sounding petty. Any thoughts?

Is he (a) genuinely improving documents, (b) genuinely improving them but doing it in cases where it really doesn’t matter (i.e., like on informal internal docs), or (c) changing things that are subjective/stylistic and don’t matter? The solution is a little different for each of these.

If he’s genuinely improving the documents and the document are important enough that in other circumstances you’d be glad to have the corrections (like if someone actually charged with proofreading offered those edits), I’d say — well, you need a proofreader! It’s important not to seem as if you’re defensive about getting edits at all, because that will actually undermine your authority and credibility by making you look insecure.

But he doesn’t have to be the proofreader, and the context here (his reaction to you being hired, and the sexism) makes it particularly understandable that you’re bristling at it coming from him. If this is the situation (important edits, important documents), I’d set up whatever system you’d prefer to get this stuff edited before they go out.

(That said, if he’s an excellent proofreader and you need one, it might make sense to take him up on that — before documents are finalized and sent around to the team. I can understand not wanting to do that because it feels like rewarding annoying behavior, but there can be power in saying, “You know, you’re a great proofreader. How about I send you anything public-facing ahead of time for proofreading?” That demonstrates you’re not bothered or threatened by him, and it’s you exercising your authority as a manager to make a change to your team’s systems, and that can be a power move — if and only if you genuinely think he has a useful talent that your team could benefit from.)

But if he’s making edits in situations where it really doesn’t matter, like on an informal internal memo that that no one expects to be perfectly polished, then I’d say this to him: “I noticed you’ve been offering edits on documents like these. These are internal documents that aren’t expected to be perfectly polished, so it’s not a good use of your time to proofread them each time. When something does need to be proofread, I send it to (proofreader) but I’ll let you know if I ever do want you to edit something.”

Or if his edits are things that are purely subjective/stylistic: “I appreciate you wanting to make sure these materials are as strong as they can be, but I’m not looking for stylistic edits at this stage. I don’t want people to spend time editing everything that’s sent around, and I’ll let you know if there ever is something where I’m seeking that kind of input.”

In all of these, you want your approach and your tone to be divorced from any ego or any personal investment you might have in not wanting this particular guy critiquing your work. The more you sound like that’s never even entered your head (even though it’s totally human to feel that way!), the better you’ll come off. And if this is a power play on his part, that’ll sink it.

{ 290 comments… read them below }

    1. Important Moi

      There are many mentions of a power play below.
      While I don’t doubt it’s a power play, I would note that after the second time this helpful co-worker sent out edits, as team member, I would not be impressed with co-worker, though I can see why the manager is irritated. What is the power play? I can provide better spacing and spelling than you? Irritating your boss? Are others going to start editing as well? Am I looking at this wrong?

      I worked with a “One Upper” and spent too long thinking that everyone absolutely believed every thing she said. I knew this because they weren’t actively disputing her comments, so they must believe!!!!! Turns out they didn’t believe much, smelled her insecurity a mile a way and noted my composure to not let it get to me.

      Your mileage may vary….

      1. Lena Clare

        I don’t understand what you mean.

        I was referring to this part of Alison’s answer -“Is he (a) genuinely improving documents, (b) genuinely improving them but doing it in cases where it really doesn’t matter (i.e., like on informal internal docs), or (c) changing things that are subjective/stylistic and don’t matter? The solution is a little different for each of these.”
        and wondering which one applied to the LW.

    2. Engineer Girl

      This is a complete power play. Why do I think that? He is cc’ing everyone instead of sending it back to the author for updates. It’s a passive agressive declaration of “Look – she can’t even publish without mistakes!”

      OP, if I were you I would have a conversation with him. Tell him to just send corrected documents back to you only for updates. Make sure he knows that this is a directive and not a pretty please request.

      I would also establish a web based place where people can go to get the “official” version of all the documents. And the official version is something that you, as manager, have approved. You have that right.

      If he continues after this then it is insubordination.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt

        I feel like ‘I don’t want you to waste your time editing these – you have other work to do that has actually been assigned’ is a stronger message then letting him edit them at all. I wouldn’t say it like that (at first) but I think that’s what Alison’s message kind of boils down to. If he continues to do it once you’ve told him to stop – then ask “I’ve asked you not to use your time on this, can you tell me why you’re still doing it” and see what reasons he comes up with. After that it’s down to “We’ve talked about you doing this – do you not have enough work to keep you busy?”.

          1. MommyMD

            There isn’t one. People CC to let others know what is going on. In this instance it’s: look! Her work has to be edited. If he had benign intentions he would just politely tell her only. I disagree with offering to let him be a proofreader to pacify him, unless she TRULY needs a proofreader and he is qualified. I would shut down the cc’s right away as they are not necessary. If his pride is hurt, so be it. He’s a report, not her manager.

            1. TexanInExile

              Exactly. My boss is not a native English speaker. If I see an error in his work, I point it out to him IN PRIVATE. I am not trying to shame him or one-up him. I just want his work to his superiors to be as polished as possible. He is smart and fabulous and makes the occasional mistake in English.

        1. NW Mossy

          I lean this way too – I’d be frustrated if one of my employees was making these kinds of edits unsolicited, particularly if it’s not a priority in their role and doesn’t materially impact meaning or a customer-facing piece of work. There are lots of other things I’d prefer for my team members to focus on, and that’d be the thrust of my conversation – “please don’t work on this kind of thing unless I tell you it’s a priority, because right now your focus should be on X, Y, and Z.”

          It’s also something that I’d take as a possible pointer to prioritization issues generally. I’ve seen this kind of edge-polishing approach in employees who feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next. When priorities and next steps are unclear, some people will cast around for stuff that they know they can do well, even if that’s far removed from their main focus. If left unattended (especially if you’re in an environment that changes priorities rapidly), this behavior can become corrosive to the person’s productivity.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        The thing about just telling him to send the edits to you directly, without addressing the rest of it, is that it allows him to think “oh, she’s embarrassed that the rest of the team sees this” and he feels pleased. (If indeed he’s doing it as a power play.)

        1. MommyMD

          I disagree. I think her telling him to return the edits to her only lets him know the chain of command. Which it appears he needs to be reminded of. If he thinks she is embarrassed, that’s for him to deal with. It proves it is personal and his attitude is warped. If he keeps this behavior up, maybe it’s time for him to move on. No walking on egg shells to pacify him.

      3. MommyMD

        I agree. I would politely and professionally tell him to knock it off with the cc. That in itself tells me he wants to make her look bad.

    3. Close Bracket

      literally things like adding the word “the,” or changing “Teapot design team” to “Teapot Design Team.” Most recently, he edited an intake form I had created by putting in more spacing for a couple of the fields.

      It’s pretty obviously c. I’m surprised other options were even suggested.

      1. JSPA

        If the spaces let people enter a full name / full address–and see everything they are entering, regardless of platform–that can be a dramatic improvement / big change in client frustration. Yesterday, I fought with a Microsoft form on an android phone for 5 times longer than the task should have required. It… didn’t improve my feelings about the company.

        1. Michaela Westen

          I refuse to use such things. I get *very* annoyed with companies that waste my time like that! If they want my business, they will provide a form that works! (preferably paper :D)

      2. Same.

        Well if he’s adding “the” because it was missing or changing a capitalization error, those are typos that the company wouldn’t want to appear in important documents. But that doesn’t mean he’s still not just doing this (and doing it in this way) as a power play!

  1. Snarkus Aurelius

    If this employee pushes back, you could suggest that you need all staff to read for content, not typos or grammar. If he only ever reads because he’s looking to capitalize some random noun, then he’s never going to absorb and apply what you need him to.

    I’d all also question if he is actually reading and understanding written materials too. For example, if you just sent out a memo on TPS report cover sheets, he edited it and sent it back, but completely ignored your instructions because he wasn’t reading for comprehension.

    1. KatieZee

      I second the request for “content v. copy-edit” reviews. It took a little work, but I successfully got our proposal review process shifted in that direction, much to everyone’s relief. When comments are coming from 5 people on a single document, everyone providing copy-edits and style suggestions is terrible for the author to deal with in revisions. Plus, we have copy-editing performed right before submission.
      I just started adding “Please focus comments on substantive content feedback, we will have this copy-edited prior to submission” to all the review request emails (and reinforced it at review meetings etc).

  2. Anonym

    This is definitely annoying, but the examples given sound like necessary edits, though they’re small. Even if the documents are internal, mistakes like that say, “this team doesn’t exactly have its act together.”

    Alison’s advice to enlist him (or someone else) as a proofreader is a great idea. You’re the manager – unless you’re also an editor, you’re not expected to produce perfect writing, and it’s totally reasonable to farm out final proofing to someone whose time is a little less expensive than yours.

    1. Karen from Finance

      I disagree. If a team is working well, I’d expect them to be more focused on their work than on adding a bit of spacing or capitalizing every sentence in the team name in their internal emails. These all sound like a preference to me, if they are for internal team purposes. And even if they are formal, they do sound nitpicky as well. It’s good that Alison responded to each alternative just in case.

      1. Anonym

        Ahh, I meant internal to the company, but outside the team. And I assume documents doesn’t include emails. Should have clarified. Definitely agree on the alternatives.

    2. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool

      As someone who edits others’ writing as my job, I disagree that the edits were necessary. Capitalization of titles and the inclusion of articles are often discretionary.

        1. Typing Cop

          Another editor here! I think of those folks as “typo cops.” And it’s about as endearing as saying “You missed a spot!” to someone mopping the floor.

      1. MommyMD

        Before medicine I worked in journalism and did a little eye rolling. In some instances capitalization is incorrect. This is nit picky power play imo. I think LWs instincts are right.

      2. Liane

        I am a copy editor where my job description specifically includes typos and think these aren’t needed, and OP should shut this report down. Also, if she decides she needs at least some documents proofread, OP should not give this guy the job.

        And since the OP’s boss thinks/suspects there’s sexism and/or “I shoulda had her job” at play, shouldn’t he be coaching OP on how to shut this down?

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      I don’t think there’s any evidence that these are good (or bad) edits. Adding “the” could range from incorrect to correct-but-unnecessary to absolutely necessary. “Teapot Design Team” is correct or preferable as a proper noun but incorrect as a descriptor.

    4. Dragoning

      Do they? To me the examples mostly seemed like formatting changes that didn’t matter one whit.

      1. Lynn Marie

        Sometimes they do matter if it’s an outfacing document that’s been group written and needs consistency with other company documents. People tend to have varying degrees of awareness of this. Also, some workplaces routinely pass everything through review by everybody, so it’s not necessarily weird in itself, just depends on context. From the examples given, the edits don’t seem outrageously nit-picky to me in themselves, but the OP may feel differently and the OP is the boss. I’ve learned to go either way, including leaving spelling errors because that’s the way the boss likes particular words spelled even if all sources agree with my edits and corrects me if I correct them.

          1. Random obs

            That depends on the corporate culture. I worked at a company where the culture was “everyone on a project needs to be cc’ed on every e-mail.” I think that’s a recipe for e-mail overload! But if that is the culture in this workplace then it’s not personal, especially if the the boss has reinforced that e-mail culture.

            1. Star Nursery

              I was thinking the same thing. Some work cultures do have everyone cc’d and it might just be to make the document better. I think it will be interesting to hear the OP’s thoughts on which of the scenarios are making sense.

            2. Jasnah

              I think if these edits were necessary, and it were common to circulate everything, OP wouldn’t have interpreted it as a power play. I assume OP wouldn’t have mentioned it if it were a normal thing to do in their office.

    5. Essie

      Even if they’re necessary you don’t send it back to everyone.

      Also, I don’t think you meant to say if someone needs to be proofread Alison!

      1. KP

        Hi! Just wanted to say that cc’ing everyone could also be part of the culture if that kind of collaboration is common. In my office, it would be an issue of version control. If a document gets sent out and a new version is created that not everyone has access to, it could cause more confusion down the line. Also in my line of work, reply-all is sort of the default so that everyone stays on the same page with documenting changes. So I don’t think cc’ing the group is necessarily proof of malice!

        1. Frozen Ginger

          I don’t think that’s the scenario here. It doesn’t sound like LW is soliciting any feedback at all and that we’re talking about documents that are solely “owned” by LW. So no one else is sending them out or correcting them.
          If the edits were necessary, LW could forward it on to the team after verifying the edits.

    6. Blunt Bunny

      Yes possibly, I would print the documents out to see stuff like spacing and grammar. Also if you haven’t already enable pagination in word and you can check the style of your work in word.

    7. Dog in a bag

      Depending on the company, I agree. My work is very strict on document formatting to keep writing and presentation consistent across the global company. Before working here I’d totally roll my eyes at these edits, but I’ve been in enough doc reviews and heard directors call out the font size and spacing of margins and tables to take captitalization extremely serious lol.

  3. Loopy

    I’ve heard certainly changes referred to as “feel good changes” meaning they weren’t really necessary but the person feels good that they found something to make themself look knowledgeable/helpful/better. It helped me use this term because it said more about them than my work. The OP seems to already realize this is more about the person than the work but having a term can help and I’ve definitely latched on to “feel good changes”!

    Some people just have to have a say, whether it’s necessary or not.

    1. Artemesia

      Ideally there is another member of the team who is a crackerjack proofreader and could be assigned that role BEFORE things went out so that Mr. Pickypants would find that he was overruling a co-worker and not the boss he resents. Then if Mr. Picky send stuff back edited you can say ‘Super Fergus is doing our proofing for material that goes outside to clients or other departments so you don’t need to edit;and we don’t need editorial comment on internal communications. It was sent out for (information only or to solicit input on the content.)’

      1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar

        There seems to be a recurring belief on this thread that “if it’s for internal communications,” there’s no need to use correct grammar or spelling. That is absurd. Nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of language is clear communication and consistency, not virtue signalling to outsiders.

        1. Someone Else

          There’s nothing in the letter that suggests the guy IS correcting actual mistakes. That’s the issue. It sounds like he’s “correcting” things that could be fine either way. Maybe they’re not fine in this context, but we have no way of knowing that. Maybe he’s rigidly adhering to an internal styleguide the boss is being loosey goosey with or maybe he’s just putting his own little stamp on how HE prefers the documents be. But they’re not his documents. It doesn’t need to fit his personal standard and most importantly, it sounds like it’s not his actual job to be doing this so it’s out of place for him to take time away from his actual work to edit documents he was only asked to read for his own information. If these were major grammatical or spelling errors, maybe point them out, but if not one asked him to edit and he’s taking it upon himself to do so every time, it’s entirely logical for the boss to point out this is not a good use of his time.

        2. Artemesia

          Every draft doesn’t have to be perfect. Getting all fussy about internal memos just slows things down.

        3. Elsajeni

          Sure, and “the Teapot design team will be handling this” is no less clear than “the Teapot Design Team will be handling this,” so the purpose of clear communication has been achieved and the correction is not needed. (For that matter, even an actual spelling or grammar error frequently doesn’t affect clarity that much — “the Teepot design team will be handling this” is still perfectly clear unless your organization also makes golf-themed teapots.) In that situation, it’s the public correction, if anything, that is “virtue signalling” — it’s communicating “everyone look at how smart I am!”

    2. Scrappy

      At my last employer, we called these “Change ‘Happy’ to ‘Glad’.” I had one boss who was extremely fond of dictating these changes be made, both for pickiness and (given her other behaviors) exertion of power. Once, I had finalized and gotten all eight (or so) required signatures on a document before her necessary final signature and was about to depart on vacation when she refused to sign because she wanted a number of Happy-to-Glad changes. It took me four days to get all eight signatures again (thankfully, none of those signing were out that week or wanted any other changes), and then she AGAIN wanted a number of Happy-to-Glad changes, whereupon I was insubordinate and said “I have delayed my vacation four days getting this re-signed. I will not re-start the process today — I am leaving now.” Guess what? She signed.

        1. Scrappy

          Thanks! However, I would have called it “resignation” to what I had to do; I was the only one who could really do it, and the schedule was critical (which made the Happy-to-Glad changes even more frustrating than usual). This was, unfortunately, typical of dealings with her.

  4. Snarkologist

    You could also send out in PDF (or similar “uneditable” by people without know-how/software) format.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t know that that’s going to solve this though. He could just email her with suggested changes. And it doesn’t address the issue directly (especially if it’s scenario #1 where the edits are worthwhile).

      1. Snark

        In the other two scenarios, though, it would be a great way to pop him with the “Oh, actually, I appreciate you wanting to make sure these materials are as strong as they can be, but I’m not looking for stylistic edits at this stage. I don’t want people to spend time editing everything that’s sent around, and I’ll let you know if there ever is something where I’m seeking that kind of input” reply, though.

      1. Karen from Finance

        Not with all softwares. The most basic version of Adobe Reader won’t let you do that. And even then, most software that converts it to doc will mess the format around, as it will be “guessing” how the document was made a bunch (it can’t know if a large blank space something was created by clicking on your space bar a bunch or hitting tab once, for example). If the person wants to edit formats they wouldn’t do this, it would be pointless.

        1. Cooffeeee

          That’s why I said, “at least for me”. But yeah it works with my adobe reader but yes it can also mess with formatting – but there are reasons it’s still done and can be helpful.

      2. Anonysand

        A slight problem with doing that though is that it can seriously wreck the formatting of the document if there are certain parameters in place. I had this problem at a previous job- I was in charge of document control for internal procedures (which had to be designed and written in a specific way according to our management software), and people would take the PDFs, convert them into word, and make the updates they thought it needed. Then it would get sent back to me, and surprise! Now the original formatting is gone and I’ve got to rebuild it the right way so that the document management software doesn’t spit it back out.

        Still, that’s semantics. I would be interested to see though if this guy would still go through the trouble with a PDF or if he would get the hint.

        1. Elizabeth West

          UGGGGGGHH. This is where I would lock the fook out of documents and send a directive (with my boss’s okay) “Please email all suggested edits for these documents to me so I can ensure the document repository is consistent.” My old boss would have backed me up completely.

          When I worked at a non-profit, we used Raiser’s Edge and so many people were going in and borking up links that we had to restrict access to me, my boss, the other admin, and the person who did the finance reports.

          1. Anonysand

            YES! I had to do the same thing, with a caveat that the only edits I would accept would be in note form or from an original document requested directly from me. I can’t tell you how many documents I had to rebuild from scratch because people had forked up the doc so bad and then sent it along to 16 different people for their edits and redlines before it landed back on my desk. Or because there were 7 different drafts with new updates floating around and everyone thought they were doing us a favor by ripping the PDF into word every time they had an update. And every time it happened I would want to bang my head against the wall because it would be hours wasted.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)

      I don’t think exposing him is going to put OP in a good light in front of the rest of the team, especially if they ignore this. Sure, now everyone will know what all the “Let me know if this is OK.” emails mean, but it’s feels manipulative.

    3. MLB

      While that may keep him from editing the document directly, it doesn’t address the underlying problem. He clearly doesn’t respect her authority as a manager. Some people always have to be right about everything, and insert themselves into everything when a lot of the time it’s unnecessary. I have a colleague that does this – she’s super controlling and wastes so much time on stuff she doesn’t need to be involved in, rather than focusing on her actual job.

    1. NerdyKris

      Then he’d just save a local copy, edit that, and send it back. Or just email the changes. That doesn’t address the underlying issue.

    2. Suzy

      I like this idea. If he does save a local copy, edit that, and send it back it tells you something about his motivation… that this is a priority to him and not just a minor habit. And the way he uses his time is worth addressing. Can you make documents into PDFs?

    3. ATX Language Learner

      I feel like that’s passive aggressive and won’t fix the issue. Her employee will feel like it’s done out of spite.

  5. Tracy

    I supervise a person that acts in similar ways, correcting and following up on everyone’s tasks except her own. I call it “micromanaging behavior.” She will try to micromanage everyone around her, including me. If I start to feel like she is micro managing me, I’ve come to learn that she doesn’t have enough work to do and I find a nice long list of detailed things for her to work on.

    1. Graphique Gresigner

      I agree. This was my first thought.

      Plus, I think it is aggresive and unnecessary. Of course he’s doing it to needle her. What kind of lunatic proof reads their manager’s work and sends an edited version to the whole team!? It’s like he’s correcting her homework.

  6. Harvey 6-3.5

    I think the most powerful and productive choice is to modify Alison’s first suggestion and, if this employee has time to proofread, make this part of his job. This way, OP can demonstrate that she is the manager assigning work, get buy-in from this employee, get the work in the best possible form for distribution, and get a second pair of eyes which can sometimes avoid issues. Even if these are unimportant documents or simply style changes, if the editing doesn’t impede the employee’s other work at all, it lets OP run the show.

    1. SigneL

      Perhaps kill him with kindness – give him the job of editing everything (in addition to his other jobs). He will soon tire of it.

      1. Not So NewReader

        This works with a lot of people, too. “Okay, you want to edit/proof read that’s great. Now all department documents will be sent to you so you can edit them. Keep in mind that there are up-coming deadlines A, B and C and you cannot miss any of the deadlines. So figure out how you will fit the editing into your workload.”

        Insubordination is insubordination, it doesn’t matter what is driving the behavior. Unless he was assigned to proof read or unless you requested he look at a particular document he is over stepping.

        I do agree if you pretend you don’t see the motivation behind his editing you can take the wind right out of his sales. He looks foolish to his cohorts, you can be sure of that.

        1. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar

          I am curious if you would also see a QC person on, say, and aircraft production line at Boeing as “insubordinate” if he pointed out that his supervisor missed a faulty part.

          That’s what editing is: quality control.

          1. BookishMiss

            Those are such wildly different scenarios that the comparison really isn’t helpful, regardless of the fact that this employee’s job is not QC/editing.

          2. GradStudent

            Yeah because people are going to die if one word isn’t capitalized. That’s a false equivalence.

          3. Not An Intern Any More

            “I am curious [whether] you would also see a QC person on, say, [an] aircraft production line at Boeing as “insubordinate” if he pointed out that his supervisor missed a faulty part.”

            I just wanted to let you know that this production has many faulty parts. I hope it’s ok.

    2. Suzy

      I actually don’t love the idea of making proofreading part of his job. I think its up to you as his manager to decide how he spends his time, not up to him to create a job of being the proofreader because he is trying to correct you. Putting him in the role of correcting you erodes your power in the long term. If you want a proofreader, then YOU decide.

      Assuming you are not actually making mistakes, I think this IS a powerplay and should be met as any other powerplay would be met. Calmly call it out. Ask him to stop and focus on other things. I like the script for that that Alison provided.

        1. Liane

          Another Agree. Don’t reward him with the Team Proofreader mantle. Heck, anything else he volunteers to do (or starts doing) OP should shut down.

      1. Harper the Other One

        Yes, this was my thought – whatever his job is, he wasn’t hired as a proofreader, and he hasn’t been asked to be a proofreader. I think OP should (politely but firmly) tell him this isn’t his job and she wants him spending time on his actually responsibilities, not this.

    3. Marthooh

      If it’s a power play (and it sure looks like one) the OP isn’t going to get buy-in from this guy. If the work needs proofreading, put a good proofreader on it. Tell Eddie Editall to get busy doing his own job.

  7. Roscoe

    yeah, its really hard to say because it could just be that, as Alison said, these are valid and needed edits. Even a good edit coming from someone you don’t like has the potential to be taken wrongly. Hell, I’ve had “peer review” stuff, and if someone I hated made valid criticism, even if constructive, I’d bristle at it. So I agree to try to take out your personal feelings and look at it objectively. If this was a woman your age, in his same position, doing the same thing, would you feel the same? If not, maybe work on your own feelings.

  8. (Mr.) Cajun2core

    Alison (or was it the Evil HR Lady) once said, that it would be great to have a job doing “something you can’t not do”. This person may be a natural born editor. He may not be able to help himself. It may be “something he can’t not do”. I know editors like that. Does he have a degree in English or something similar? It may be a quirk of his personality.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that it is okay. I would follow all of Alison’s advice above as applicable. However, it may explain what is going on.

      1. Karen from Finance

        This is an excellent way to think about it!

        This definitely sums up why I left my previous job and why I put up with my current one. I’ve definitely annoyed a few people in the process. Definitely earned appreciation from others too.

        Great food for thought, thank you Alison.

          1. Just Employed Here

            Nope, you need to get you some new adverbs.

            (At least I didn’t write this at work, and you are not my boss. And I sure as hell am not planning to stalk your future comments here in order to “doctor” them.)

      2. Lily in NYC

        Alison, I just remembered that you confessed that you used to correct items that your school principal wrote (she didn’t ask you to do so) and returned them to her! That always tickled me.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes! In high school, and I was incredibly obnoxious about it — would mark them up with a red pen and put them back in his in-box in the school office.

            1. College Career Counselor

              I used to point out the speech errors my high school German teacher made. I think I did it mostly because she was such a stickler about how if we didn’t do things her her way EXACTLY, they were wrong (this is about format, not content or grammar). It was my way of calling out authority while also being excruciatingly correct.

            2. PetticoatsandPincushions

              My mother did that to my college acceptance letter…

              In her defense, they probably should have caught the several obvious typos, but I thought it was pretty unnecessary haha

          1. Can Man

            This makes me feel better about correcting grammar and typos on tests I took from grade school through college. In my case, removing an apostrophe from an erroneous “it’s” and other similar corrections had to be made. Otherwise it would distract me from my test for the entire testing period, lowering my grade. I have mellowed a bit in casual communications (due to friends with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, friends whose first language is not English, and the pervasiveness of touch screen keyboards), but I still have a hard time not constantly making comments about bananas being advertised at .69¢ (technically less than a cent) at one of my jobs.

      3. Elizabeth West

        Yeah, that’s kind of me–I edit when I read books, LOL (headiting). But see, I would ASK my boss first if they wanted me to edit stuff. Not just DO it.

        Off topic, but we can’t link to our blogs anymore?

        1. Lurking around

          Yes! I click on your blog semi-regularly when I see you post Elisabeth – hopefully it’s just a glitch as I liked it :)

        2. MCMonkeyBean

          Yes, when I was a creative writing minor in college we would all edit each other’s stories and I honestly enjoyed that more than the writing… but it made it really hard to enjoy books! There was a series I had loved in high school that my now-husband started reading, so I read one with him and was like dang this book is terrible I want to rewrite this whole page lol!

          I thought I might try editing as a career but it’s probably for the best that I didn’t take that path because now I can read for pleasure again and only *occasionally* think about how a sentence might be tweaked to be better…

      4. Seeking Second Childhood

        Lol and apparently one of the things I can’t not do is volunteer information…
        Wish I could pop through a time machine and suggest Anonymous look into Records Management.

    1. Doodle

      I have a doctorate in English and worked for many years as an editor, and I’m now tasked with a fair amount of the editing in my office. I notice every last mistake in every document, email, and powerpoint produced by my co-workers, and many of the mistakes make me twitch. I don’t correct ANY mistake unless I’m asked to. This guy can certainly control himself if he wants to. He either doesn’t want to, or nobody’s told him to wait to be asked (although really, unless he’s new to the working world, he ought to know it).

      1. 2 Cents

        If we didn’t know from the OP that he’s probably intentionally doing so as a power play, I’d say that maybe he though the was being helpful. I admit that I do this at my job (I was a proofreader in a former life), and while I know my boss appreciates it, I know others don’t.

        1. MCMonkeyBean

          I work on financial reports, which is a field in which not many people are great writers. I frequently cringe at things but I generally only speak up if I think the sentence is actually unreadable or misleading.

      2. Xarcady

        I was coming here to say the exact same thing, except that I am currently working as an editor. I can’t not notice the mistakes. But I never say anything unless asked, except once or twice when the material was going to be public-facing and the errors really, really needed to be pointed out before we printed thousands of copies. (It is not a good look to have a typo in the name of your company.)

        1. Artemesia

          I have spent a life time muttering ‘fewer not less’ to myself but not correcting badly written material unless someone has asked me to do so or it is clearly part of my responsibility.

        2. fposte

          Same here, both because of courtesy and because I’m lazy, or at least standing on the principle that if I get paid for doing this, I’m not just going to give it away.

        3. Free Meerkats

          Or leaving the ‘l’ out of Public Works. Happened here on a book of standard drawings that was distributed to local contractors.

          1. Oxford Comma

            That happened once when I had a public library job.

            But at the same time, cc’ing everyone to point it out feels like the wrong approach.

          2. Wintermute

            in my line of work many laughing-out-loud, save-to-the-archives-for-future-enjoyment typos have resulted from the phrase “hard disk”

          3. Lucy

            You’d have enjoyed the highly important legal document which went through several (publicly available) iterations before the official body requested that all references to “white” be corrected from their current s- spelling.

            Yep, in a 100+ page document every single instance of “white” was spelt with an initial “s”. And nobody had noticed.

          4. TootsNYC

            I still don’t understand why the vendors of desktop-publishing or word-processing software haven’t removed the word “pubic” from their spell-check dictionaries.

            1. Lucy

              Or even catch it in the grammar check – sometimes MSWord will prompt you to check homophones or commonly misused words, and it would be very easy indeed for them to add pubic/public to the list of words commonly confused.

              It would probably annoy gynaecologists, but I bet they write about “public health” as much as anyone else!

        4. Dragoning

          Ahhh, bringing back memories of the time my current company spelled the product name wrong multiple times on the instructions.

          1. Artemesia

            I worked on a big research study on school desegregation and one of the documents that came out of it was a guidebook for facilitating effective school desegregation; yup — the first copies that went out were titled Techniques for Facilitating School Segregation. Whoever proofed, didn’t proof titles. Thank goodness it wasn’t me. But I learned the important of proofing headings and charts from that and later caught a laughable error in a diagram in the galleys of a book I wrote — that if overlooked would have made me look ridiculous.

            1. JustaTech

              A friend of mine just published a super-advanced math text book, and when he was sent the proofs the title was drastically mis-spelled on on the spine. Like, not anywhere near the word it was supposed to be.
              He pointed that out, along with whatever else he found in the proof.

              The publisher didn’t fix it.

        5. rogue axolotl

          On the other side of the coin–I work as an editor and it has drastically reduced my desire to mark up changes on posters and menus if no one is paying me to do it.

        6. Jasnah

          Same! I’ve matured enough to know that correcting others can be rude and even ableist. People who resort to picking apart word choice and grammar are saying, “I perfectly understood what you said, but I’m going to focus on the tiny flaw in how you said it. I don’t understand what language is for, and I’m more interested in proving my intelligence and superiority than in reading social cues or being kind.”

          1. Lucy

            THANK YOU!

            The only time it is remotely appropriate to correct someone else’s mistakes in public is if you think the error is bad enough to be confusing or misleading AND you explicitly give them the benefit of the doubt – “you put legal – I’m assuming this is a typo and you mean illegal?”

            If you understood it easily enough to be able to rattle off a snidey “YOU’RE” then everyone else understood it as well. Nobody has ever been able to provide me with an example of a homophone error which causes genuine confusion (hint: if such a thing existed, it wouldn’t be a homophone).

      3. Myrin

        I’m the same, only with German and way earlier in my career (working on my doctorate right now). I absolutely can’t not see mistakes, especially when it comes to punctuation; as a matter of fact, just a few hours ago, I ranted to my mum about a quite common lack of hyphens in our fresh-produce-delivery-service’s flyers (my mum honestly could not care less), but that doesn’t mean I actually sent them an email and pointed their hyphen-less-ness out to them.

      4. MusicWithRocksInIt

        Yes – he can find another outlet for this. I have an aunt who’s way of relaxing in the morning is to sit down with the paper and a red pen and edit all the errors she finds. She doesn’t need to show it to anyone or send it back to the paper or anything, it is just her way of enjoying the paper, like her version of a crossword.

        1. Asenath

          Someone using the local public library used to make corrections to novels in pencil.

          I am often tempted to make corrections to other people’s work (I don’t always see the mistakes in my own!) up to and including revising the text, but I do refrain unless I’m asked to.

          I think Alison’s ideas work. It does sound excessive – and I also like the idea of having final versions not under this person’s control – that is, his “corrections” are not included.

          1. SelenaAcademia

            I used to live in a town where well over a third of the novels I checked out were edited (and sometimes lightly annotated for historical accuracy) in pencil. We called this person the Mad Editor and appreciated her tireless work.

              1. Wintermute

                that’s the source of the split between the society for the preservation of apostrophes and the militant society for the protection of apostrophes. The latter are the ones that find themselves wearing balaklavas atop a ladder in the dead of night with a can of white paint when confronted with a sign reading “childrens center”

      5. twig

        As a lit and english degree holder, I find myself automatically editing stuff from time to time (less and less the further out from grad school).

        HOWEVER, I don’t send those edits back to whoever wrote the materials, unless they asked for editing help.

    2. Micromanagered

      Does he have a degree in English or something similar?

      My college diploma (in English) started rattling in its drawer as I read this post.

    3. Dragoning

      Oh, he can help himself. I have this quirk, too, and while the formatting and typos and house style annoys me, I do not edit it and send it back to the originator in front of everyone. Because that’s not my job.

      I can grumble about it in my head and mark up a local copy all I want, but it doesn’t need to be shared.

    4. Indie

      I have an English degree and I walk past poorly written signs and the like with my fist in my mouth. This is not that. This is professional cluelessness and naively believing that the last word makes him look something other than desperate for attention, passive aggressive and nitpicky.

    5. Liane

      “something he can’t not do”?
      Going to disagree. I have this quirk* of picking up on any kind of writing errors–grammar, spelling, whatever. They stand out like they are typed in some kind of flashing neon font to me, even when the document is handwritten. I have worked as an essay scorer, medical transcription QA/editor, and copy editor–all jobs where this is not just a strength but a requirement. And I can restrain myself from grammar- & typo- policing if I am not being paid to do so. This guy just wants to disrespect & undermine his boss, the OP, and thinks he’s being subtle about it.

      *Although not an English degree, even though my AP Comp & Lit teacher was probably right that I should have gone for one

  9. Amber Rose

    It bothers me that he copies everyone. Can you tell him that if he has suggestions, to forward them to just you for approval so as to avoid confusion with everyone else?

    You don’t want a whole bunch of miscellaneous revisions of documents floating around regardless of all the other problematic stuff going on here. I should know, our network is literally littered with 100 different revisions of everything and it causes problems when people use the wrong one for stuff.

    1. Plain Jane

      Yes, this is the part that makes me think he’s trying to show up the LW. If I saw a legit typo on a doc my boss created I’d reply just to her.

      1. Amber Rose

        I typo-check my boss a lot, because she can spell words like ‘coalescing’ but sometimes screws up words like ‘option.’ But I would never copy everyone on that. That’s a definite power play, and one with potentially serious consequences.

        I guarantee the rest of the team sees it the same way, which means how LW handles this is going to play an important part in their authority moving forward.

        1. Important Moi

          Power play? Yes. An effective one? I think not.

          LW made no mention of sending out a “bad” documents. So I think the team sees these edits as the BS they are…

          but other folks may work in a different environment than I…

          “…. handles this is going to play an important part in their authority moving forward.” sounds needlessly ominous to me.

          1. MusicWithRocksInIt

            If this were happening in my office I would 100% play the ‘Open both documents and try to spot the difference’ game. And if they were few and pointless, I would totally judge the person who sent the corrections.

            And this is coming from someone who is fussy about spacing and presentation. If I was passed along a document or form to make other changes to, I would 100% mess with it to make it more presentable, but that comes from working in a place with a lot of people who couldn’t format an excel sheet to save their lives. If something was sent out to the staff as done I would never even contemplate correcting it and sending it back – that is rude far beyond my Midwestern capability.

          2. Amber Rose

            Yeah, sorry about that. I’d edit it if I could. I was in a dramatic mood at the time, since our office is blowing up soap opera style again. It’s contagious.

            Also I’m watching them try to clean this fish tank and there’s a definite feeling of ominous doom for the survival of the poor thing.

      2. Dust Bunny

        This. I’ve caught mistakes/typos in things my boss has sent but 99.9% of the time I let them go. If they’re serious enough to interfere with communication (forgetting a “not” or something, which reverses the meaning of sentence, for example) I email him back *privately* to point it out and let him either send the correction out himself, or do it for him *if he asks me to*.

        Sending the corrections to everyone is unnecessary whether the corrections were necessary or not.

        1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

          I will point out when “now” is mistyped as “not” (which I see fairly often) but I bite my lip and hold my fingers when it comes to most errors in other people’s writing unless I’ve been asked to copy edit as well as review for content.

      3. Not So NewReader

        It makes me wonder if people are answering him. I bet most don’t. Some might answer a few and then stop, as in, “Can’t you decide these things for yourself?”
        I wonder what his work looks like. Often people who get heavy handed with the proofing, don’t proof their own that well.

        1. College Career Counselor

          Perhaps re-framing the old “does this need to be said?” mantra would work for the OP’s direct report?

          Does this need to be corrected?
          Does this need to be corrected now/publicly?
          Does this need to be corrected BY ME?

    2. Yvette

      I was just coming here to say it bothers me as well but not just from the point of having a bunch of confusing invalid version out there. I also agree with Plain Jane in that this is very likely his attempt at showing the LW up. I know that if I ever found an issue with something my boss did, or even a co-worker, I respond to them and only them. I don’t point it out for the whole group to see. Unless it was something time sensitive and urgent like an incorrect phone number or meeting location.

    3. Susana

      Me too, Amber. It’s not clear to me why he thinks it’s his place to edit a document his supervisor sent him (I never would – and if I saw a typo or something that needed to be fixed, I’d email supervisor and say, oh, hey – caught this typo, thought you’d want to fix it, or something like that). But the fact that he cc’s everyone – yeah, that got me thinking right away this is someone trying to prove his supervisor isn’t up to the job (and that he IS).

    4. Doodle

      Copies everyone AND asks everyone to let him know if it’s ok. It’s not his document to send around and it’s not his place to ask everyone for approval. That’s the part that makes me think he’s doing a power play, not simply the edits.

      1. Amber Rose

        Yeah, that’s crap behavior. On the plus side, the rest of the team probably also realizes what this is. It’s about as subtle as a brick to the face after all. If I were one of the people getting all these emails I’d be annoyed.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I’d be tempted to reply all: “Fergus did Jane ask you to correct this? I understood the original just fine. Jane, do we need more than one of these documents or is it okay to delete Fergus’s version?”

          But then, I’m evil. >:)

          1. Not So NewReader

            Yep, yep. I must be evil too then. I might even stop by Jane’s office to set it up so she knew what I was doing when she saw the email.

    5. pcake

      My first thought, also, was have him send them only to you. That would be easiest if you sent everything to him to proof read before sending it to everyone. That way, if he’s used to hitting “reply all”, it would still send it only to you. Also you’d quickly find out if he likes proof reading or if he only does it as a power play.

  10. Wing-N-Wing

    Eh, perhaps I’m cynical, but the fact that he’s sending his “edits” to the entire staff, rather than simply back to the OP, makes it look more like a power play than a genuine effort to be helpful.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House

      100%, and to be equally cynical in return, this is going to end either with a) him fired or b) her undermined into being ineffective such that she has to leave.

      Come down on this, hard, now.

      1. KnittyGritty

        Completely agree! This is absolutely a power-play and he’s being a jerk by sending this everyone.

    2. EPLawyer

      Oh it is definitely a power play. He is makng sure everyone knows he is “correcting” the manager’s “mistakes.”

      Honestly if I had an employee doing this I would not be as nice as Alison suggests. I would have the “I need to stop editing my work unless specifically asked” speech and ending with a “Can you do that?” Make him admit what he is doing and get him to promise to stop. If he doesn’t then the next talk is “I asked you to not do it, if you continue I am going to have to transition you out of this department.”

      But I have a low tolerance for whiny sexists. I can see WHY he didn’t get the promotion and OP did.

      1. Anon Anon Anon

        Same here. I have a low tolerance for this kind of thing. It’s passive-aggressive and countrr-productive. I would ask him to stop and if he didn’t change his attitude, I would assign him more work so he would have less time for this stuff.

      2. Wing-N-Wing

        The more I think about this, the more I agree with coming down on it pretty hard. “This really isn’t how I want you to be spending your time.” (And yep, this is why he didn’t get the promotion!)

  11. High Score!

    If he only wanted to improve the document, he wouldn’t send it to the whole team. This is a power play. If his updates are wanted, I’d tell him to only send them to me. If not, I’d use Alison’s scripts to tell him to stop.

    When you want to help someone by fixing their documents – you only send the corrections to them. When you want to show the team that you are better or want to make someone look bad then you email everyone.

    1. Paralegal Part Deux

      Or he may be asking if there’s anything he missed with the “Let me know if this is ok” comments.

      1. Amber Rose

        No. That’s a manager’s call to make, not the entire team. If LW wants it to be a collaborative effort that’s different, but it’s clearly not the case.

    2. Mr Shark

      I agree completely. This is a power play. I would pay attention to small formatting things and grammar, but I would definitely send it directly back to the LW, not the whole team. And the LW is responsible for the document as a whole, so if I were the LW I would tell them to not make changes directly to the document, but send me any comments that are critical to the end result.
      The Op should be sending out the final version to the team and asking if there was anything that was missed, not the employee. Also, I agree that you don’t want different versions floating out there, which might lead to the possibility of the wrong version being formalized.
      I would tell that to the employee. Basically, “I appreciate your changes but I don’t want multiple versions of this document floating around. Please send me any suggested changes and I will incorporate them into the document.”

  12. MP

    I think it’s interesting that one of the editing examples the letter writer mentioned was the capitalization one. I have found that less sophisticated writers over-capitalize things. It’s one of my pet peeves and if I were the letter writer, I would *really* want to sit him down and tell him that it makes him seem uneducated and poorly read. I would never do that since I’m a good manager, but I would enjoy imagining it :-)

    1. MP

      I forgot to add, I would enjoy it especially because of the sexism piece. He thinks he’s better because he’s a man, when in reality SHE is, because she’s a more sophisticated person.

    2. TheMonkey

      You have just crystalized for me why over capitalization bothers me so much when I’m reviewing documents. That is exactly it. Thank you!

    3. Hiring Mgr

      If I’m reading it correctly, the LW isn’t saying the edits are incorrect Also, she doesn’t say the co-worker has been sexist, just that her boss thinks he may be (he probably is, but fwiw..)

      1. gecko

        I don’t think MP was, either. Just that it’s a style adjustment from more sophistication to less.

      2. MassMatt

        I like that the LW’s boss mentioned that possibility, so often it seems people are determined to believe sexism, racism, etc can not possibly be a motivator, or even exist at all.

    4. ragazza

      Ugh yes. The misunderstanding of proper title case styling in particular will drive me to an early grave.

    5. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar

      I have found that less sophisticated writers over-capitalize things.

      Yes, this. We don’t know whether “Teapot Design Team” is a proper noun or an example of over-capitalization.

      1. Spencer Hastings

        Yeah, I can think of contexts where “teapot design team”, “Teapot design team”, “Teapot Design team”, and “Teapot Design Team” would each be appropriate. (There may even be others.)

  13. insert pun here

    It may help to have a style sheet (even for internal documents) — so everyone knows if you use teapot design team or Teapot Design Team, etc. That might cut down on a lot of the back and forth.
    I am an editor, professionally, and I do ask my assistant to look over most of what I write that’s more public-facing than an email. But this works because we have an established set of style guidelines. (Plus, of course, the inevitable typos, missed words, doubled punctuation, etc.)

    1. Cassandra

      A house style guide is where my mind went too. For the same reasons OP might ask her employee to proofread important documents, she might consider involving him in the creation of such a guide.

      1. OhNo

        Nope, nope, nope. Because then she’s just going to have to spend a bunch of time arguing him out of whatever capitalization-related hill he wants to die on for every single rule. If a style guide is warranted, then the OP needs to make it the way she wants it to be.

        Speaking from experience here – I had to make a style guide for my team when I was just starting in the working world, and I was absolutely the wrong choice because I have very strong opinions on things like the Oxford comma and the correct number of spaces after a period, many of which my manager disagreed with. Getting that thing done was an education for me, not least of which because my boss had to give me the “I’m the manager and my word is final” talk twice. Thank god she was understanding and I was (eventually) willing to learn, or that project would have been the end of my employment, and not just a major pain in my butt.

          1. OhNo

            I agree, but unfortunately my manager doesn’t. I end up writing everything as I normally would, and then editing to fit the department’s style guide afterward, because I sadly fought that battle and lost while we were writing the guide.

          2. Spencer Hastings

            Because modern word processing and typesetting programs adjust the width of spaces automatically. What we used to have to do manually on a typewriter, Word or LaTeX or whatever does for us now. (Better, in fact, because they’ll allow for in-between space widths as well.) The result is that you can hit the space bar once after a period and the space will be widened. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

    2. Indie

      Style guides are great for publications where things have to look consistent, but I think the OPs situation is that there *isn’t* a style to adhere to and that’s precisely why it is so nitpicky. However I’d be surprised though if her report even knows what one is, as is often the case with trigger happy capitilisers. (I went from a newspaper setting where capitilisation except for actual proper nouns etc was discouraged, to education where Everything Is Captilised To Show How Important Everything Is, and was chastised for not capitilising something like ‘computers’. I naively asked if that was a style issue and they insisted it was just a tenet of proper English. They had never heard of a style guide.

      I’d be more inclined to say we don’t use a style guide, so stylistic adjustments are a) not necessary and b) a waste of time. I’d go as far as saying “You asked if it was OK and I think I would be doing you a disservice if I fid not point out how odd it looks to be so busy spending your time rewriting things purely for style reasons and in a style we dont follow.”

    3. CM

      +1 to this.

      At my last job, we were the actual copy editors and we still got into long, drawn-out arguments with people over style. The solution we eventually came up with was to adopt an in-house style guide that augmented an existing style guide (Chicago in our case, but it could be any really robust guide). If there was a disagreement about style while we were working on a project, the rule was to do what the style guide said and make note of it for later, with the idea that we’d meet periodically to discuss whether we needed to update the style guide.

      Just because something is subjective doesn’t mean you can’t find a way of deciding that isn’t just the opinions of the two people involved. If you commit that you’ll follow a certain style, then the terms of the style guide (which you can renegotiate from time to time) decide the outcome. Which is good, because it makes it less about status and power and more about, “Here’s what we agreed we would decide, with a thoughtful plan to re-evaluate the agreement if there’s evidence that it’s not working.”

      That said, I think the AAM advice on this is wise, because it highlights that this all depends on whether these are public-facing documents. I’m a writing nerd, but I don’t think style guide issues matter if it’s just a document or an email that you’re sharing internally.

  14. coffeeee

    So the department I work in is literally the Policy Office and the corrections you received are not unusual in any way. If you are writing/editing policies, standards, guidelines or procedures accuracy across the board is pretty important and not petty. We all see each others edits and don’t take it personal – it’s part of what we do.

    It sounds like you don’t work in a designated Policy Office though? If that’s the case and you’re writing policies and guidelines someone should still be making these sorts of edits and Alison’s advice on it is spot on.

    1. Amber Rose

      The unusual part isn’t the edits, it’s the copying everyone. That’s a power play and an unnecessary one.

      If I need everyone to have an updated copy of a policy, I will update it and I will send it out. End of story. That controls how many uncontrolled revisions exist as well.

      1. Cooffeeee

        Again, we all see each other’s edits. We all review each other’s writing to ensure quality.

        Again, Alison’s advice is spot on for how LW should address it in their office, for their work environment.

        1. fposte

          Yes, there are definitely processes where that would be the norm for me too. But I also agree that it doesn’t sound like that’s the OP’s office–otherwise other people would be sending her stuff, not just this guy, and somebody likely would have said something.

          1. Not So NewReader

            Yep, this OP has a subordinate who thinks he is going to undermine her by correcting her grammar. Not really a strong strategy. It does telegraph that he really has nothing on her and he is grasping at straws.

          2. LawBee

            (unrelated, a friend and I were recently talking about how much we love AAM and the commentariat, and it quickly evolved to an fposte admirationfest. :) )

    2. Working Mom Having It All

      I think if LW worked in the kind of field where this was expected, she wouldn’t have written in.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood

      The unusual part is that the edits are totally unsolicited ones made to his boss’s distributed documents.

    4. I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar

      coffeeee:

      So the department I work in is literally the Policy Office and the corrections you received are not unusual in any way. If you are writing/editing policies, standards, guidelines or procedures accuracy across the board is pretty important and not petty.

      +11111

      1. JustaTech

        But don’t most Policy Offices use a document version control software, rather than just emailing things?
        All of the controlled documents at my company are held inside a special system that vastly limits who can edit the documents and how those edits are shared pre-approval.

        And even when I find errors in those documents (homonyms are the current problem), I can’t just go editing things! I could maybe send an email to the document author, but for errors like that we have to wait for the review cycle to come around again.

  15. ragazza

    As a trained proofreader, it drives me crazy to see presentations and formal emails with grammar/spelling/style mistakes, but I keep it to myself if it’s internal. The one time I did speak up was because I saw the improper use of “tenants” when they meant “tenets” (a very common error) and I didn’t want the VP making that error on external-facing documents, given that we work with colleges and universities, and you know, we gotta seem smart. But I asked someone how to approach the situation first.

    1. Susana

      Right – and also “tenants” vs “tenets” is an actual mistake, going to the meanings of the words. The capitalization crap and adding a “the” where it may or may not be necessary – that is sometimes a style point – sounds more like trying to show up the boss whose job you think you should have.

      1. Artemesia

        And you call it a ‘typo’ even when its a dumbo because we all appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt on our mistakes.

  16. Works in IT

    I regularly proofread my manager’s internal emails, because he tends to forward them to his boss after we finish discussing them, and then his boss often sends them on to other people, and if they weren’t fixed before they left our group people would be asking for explanations of run on sentences and things that just don’t make sense.

    … he tends to write/say the exact opposite of what he means if he’s in a hurry. Fixing it is necessary.

  17. Essess

    I would send out an email (cc:ing everyone) informing him and everyone else that that if they have modifications to your documents to come see you to discuss so that you can approve any suggested changes so that only an approved final version is sent out to the rest of the team. State that failure to follow this procedure results in confusion and multiple document versions floating around and is not beneficial. If he continues to do this after it has been told to him IN WRITING not to do this, then as a manager you need to address it as a performance problem for not following the stated procedure.

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      I’d wait until he sends his next edited document and innocently asks “is this okay,” and I’d respond “actually, I’m not looking for edits unless someone finds an actual error and not just a stylistic choice; everyone please use the original document.” (Assuming that’s what’s happening.)

      1. Essess

        That doesn’t put him on any notice of repercussions if he doesn’t stop his behavior. He is deliberately undermining your authority and this needs to be documented as actionable performance reviews to let him know there are consequences if he doesn’t stop.

        1. Not So NewReader

          OP could do both, send out a group email and haul Mr. Grammar into the office to say, “Here is what I have done and here is why. If this continues then x will happen.”

        1. TootsNYC

          and let’s not start the long, long argument over whether “The” should be capitalized in proper nouns like The Teapot Design Team (the Teapot Design Team?), or The Quilted Giraffe, or the Beatles.

  18. irene adler

    Could it be that this was something he was tasked to do by the prior manager ?

    Although I wonder why the prior manager would have him cc’ing everyone. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

    1. Anon for this

      I doubt it, as she said he’s “developed” a trait of doing this so I don’t think it’s ‘always’ (since she became manager) been the case.

  19. Name of the day

    How about a reply all thanking him for his editorial work, and asking that he either discontinue the practice or only send corrections to OP to avoid confusion.

  20. Lucy

    I wonder if he also applied for LW’s job and thinks he’s showing why he would have been a better choice.

    1. irene adler

      Maybe so.
      But from what the OP writes, he’s not including those who made the hiring decision-just the team members.
      I think he’s just trying to foment discord betw. OP and the team members.

      1. Lucy

        That’s what I mean, really. “Hey, teammates: look how much better I’d have been at the job.”

        1. Not So NewReader

          Meanwhile all the team mates are saying, “TG we don’t work for Mr. Grammar and we have OP instead.”

  21. mcr-red

    OMG, my nemesis is elsewhere!

    I have the exact same problem, a co-worker making nit-picky changes to my work, except both of us are just team members. I have been there longer and I am the only woman in my department if it matters. I have made complaints to both of my managers, and they believe he has been “trying to help” and he has been spoken to by them, and he will somewhat lay off for a while…and then start in again.

    I believe he is a narcissistic control freak, but there seems to be nothing I can do.

    1. cheesesticks and pretzels

      At least your boss didn’t yell at you about the nit-picky changes. I had one that would edit documents that I never even touched, put them on my boss’ desk and I would get scolded. She worked for an entirely different department but I was her targeted person. I was honestly relieved I would never have to deal with her again when I was laid off.

      1. mcr-red

        Yikes! No my bosses don’t yell at me.

        I once had Nemesis edit a document that wasn’t even finished! (Oh, and Nemesis waits until I’m at lunch and then does these things.) But it was like, TPS Report for Teapots – Part One filled out, Part Two…nothing yet. Part Three…nothing yet. Nemesis was going in and changing the spacing/font in Part One.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt

      Could some gentle ribbing help? “Wow – you must be really board if you have time to fuss with the spacing on the TBS report I just did. So jealous you can burn that kind of time, I’m swamped with work from the Johnson account”. Maybe your managers can give him more busy work since he has so much free time on his hands?

      1. mcr-red

        It has gotten a bit better since we have been swamped with work, I think. But I have also given up looking over my stuff to see what has been changed. I don’t have time for that.

  22. Doctor is In

    Have you read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”? Some of us with OCD tendencies see minor errors as very glaring.

    1. Owler

      So you print a copy, edit at the privacy of your desk in red ink, and promptly recycle it. You don’t cc the whole team.

      1. TootsNYC

        or you print a copy, edit it at the privacy of your desk, take it to your boss, and suggest that maybe you can help by looking some stuff over before it goes out, if she’d find that helpful.

    2. Not So NewReader

      Suddenly, though? I don’t think that’s a switch you turn on and off. If he had a habit of correcting people I think OP might have seen it before now?

    3. Mongrel

      Even if they’re errors and not stylistic issues, in this sort of situation OCD is a ‘you’ problem, not a ‘team’ problem.

  23. delta cat

    As someone with a very pushy internal copy-editor, I have to make a conscious effort not to do this sometimes. Sometimes the issues I spot are simply stylistic (it bugs me kind of a lot when people alternate between “he/she” and singular “they” within the same document, but I guarantee almost no one else reading it will even notice), and in those cases I bite my tongue and mind my own business unless I’m asked to edit.

    But then there are those other times. We have some sloppy writers working here, plus we have the added bonus of needing to translate nearly 100% of our documents, and translation is a lot harder than most people realize. (Especially if you’re translating from your native language into your second language, why oh why do we keep asking people to do that?) Sometimes the errors, while real errors, are minor enough that they will likely pass unnoticed in a bilingual city where everyone speaks some version of “Franglais” anyway. Sometimes they’re complete word salad. (I wish I could say obvious cut-and-paste from Google Translate was rare.)

    I’m really struggling with how to walk the line between being the nitpicky perfectionist who thinks she’s better at writing than everyone else, and signalling a serious problem with quality control. My direct supervisor has basically said, if you have time, go ahead and proofread anything that crosses your desk, but I still find it so, so awkward.

    1. Lucy

      (Especially if you’re translating from your native language into your second language, why oh why do we keep asking people to do that?)

      AAAAAAAAARGH!!!

    2. BookCocoon

      I also struggle with this, particularly when I’ve been asked to review something for content and I see glaring or not-so-glaring grammatical errors, and I have to weigh what I know about the person and how they would react to being sent edits, who the audience is for the information and how much it’s going to reflect on our department, etc. There are some people in my department who come to me for proofreading help and I know would be grateful for any correction I made, even a minor one that’s more of a style issue on an internal document. And there are people who would be offended at me pointing out a major spelling or grammatical error on something that was going out to hundreds of people unless I did it in the exact right way.

      But I would not cc a whole bunch of people when correcting someone else’s work.

  24. Anon for this

    From a software engineer perspective…

    Instead of emailing them around, use a “content management” system (doesn’t have to be heavyweight) that allows version control e.g. Sharepoint, source-controlled folders or whatever works in your environment, rather than distributing documents by email.

    If you think these documents do need additional review — get someone (not this guy) to eyeball them before you distribute them.

    This has the additional benefit that everyone has the ‘latest’ version of the document.

    For what it’s worth it seems to me that it’s a power play, rather than being a grammar nerd etc.

    I would also explore further with your boss about the “he seems to have trouble reporting to you” aspect. What has s/he observed in order to say that? etc.

  25. Jana

    Great advice. If the situation is the first description Allison offers (that his edits ARE good and helpful), this would a) be an opportunity to give an employee due praise for doing a good job (always a positive trait in a manager), and b) allow you assign him a task, which can reassert your role as his manager. I’d just make sure you phrase it as an assignment rather than phrasing it as you asking him to do you a favor.

  26. Noah

    What about the part where he is implicitly taking credit for the work by saying, “Let me know if this is OK”? That seems like a maybe-he-can’t-work-there-anymore-if-he-won’t-cut-it-out issue.

    1. Arctic

      I don’t think that’s happening. The LW sends out the documents to everyone first. So everyone knows they are her’s. He is just asking if the edits are OK (although not really asking.)

  27. iglwif

    Finding typos or errors in something your boss sent out and telling the boss about them is (or can be) helpful behaviour. Indeed, it’s behaviour many bosses would appreciate and even request, especially for customer-facing documents!

    Calling out the boss’s typos in an email CC’d to the entire team when you haven’t even been asked for input, on the other hand, is not helpful behaviour. It’s not entirely clear to me what this person is hoping to accomplish, but given that they are not a 22-year-old in their first office job, I don’t buy that the goal is to help their new boss :P

  28. Executive Admin

    I need to chime in here. My manager, who is absolutely great, is not a good writer. I inadvertently offended her by making corrections to a policy she was sending out that had incorrect grammar and misspellings. The document was so bad I assumed she wanted me to edit it for her when she sent it to me with a note asking me to review. Since that time I offer to write whatever needs to go out, but sometimes she still does it herself and I cringe. I would never want to hurt her feelings, as she believes she is a great writer, so I let it go. Our DO has kicked things back and I have heard comments from coworkers, but I keep quiet. She’s a wonderful manager but writing is not her forte.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      She asked you to review and got annoyed when you did as requested? Dang… I had an acquaintance find out I was in publishing and ask me to copy-edit her novel draft… I did, she got huffy.
      No big deal when it’s fan fiction. ..but office docs? I wonder if she assumed you would telepathically know she wanted a comma-only check…. or a content-only check. Bad manager, no cookie!

      1. Executive Admin

        This happened shortly after I started working for her. I am very accustomed to managers sending me the gist of what they want to say and then I write it up. So when she asked me to review her document, I assumed it was the same situation since that’s always been a big part of my job.

        She’s an awesome manager in just about every aspect except this one quirk. She truly believes she is a great writer, as I’ve heard her say on many occasions. All I can do is try to jump in and take care of as much of the writing tasks as possible!

        She is working on her master’s and showed me her professor’s scorching comments on one of her papers about rambling verbiage and grammatical errors. I thought perhaps this would get through to her, but she completely shrugged off his remarks.

      2. Fried Eggs

        This was an issue with my manager in the past. I asked her to let me know what kind of editing she wants in the request and there haven’t been any issues since in our writing-heavy job. Now instead of “Hey, can you look at this before I send it out?” she’ll say “Can you edit this?” (which we’ve discussed means a full edit: content, style, grammar, etc.) or “Can you proofread this?” (means content is finalized, just look for and fix typos and grammar issues).

        I can imagine for some people review might even mean “read this and internalize it” or “let me know if I forgot to include something major”

        1. JustaTech

          I have a coworker who has a (genuinely) lovely habit of asking “content, copy edit, or the whole enchilada?” when I send her a document to review. Because when she gets going my document can end up more comments than original text. But, if I ask for just content review, that is all she will do, leaving even the most blatant typos alone.

  29. MommyMD

    If he truly is just being helpful with no personal motives, he won’t be bothered by being directed only to CC his manager.

  30. Matilda Jefferies

    One thing I’m not clear about – are you actually asking for edits, or are you sending the docs for other reasons? I’m thinking either as an action item or a pure FYI, but I’m sure there are other examples as well.

    If you are actually sending the docs for review and comment, I would be very clear about what kind of edits you need. If it’s just content, say that (at my office we use the term “show stopper” to indicate that we really do mean we’re only looking for critical gaps or errors in the content.) If you don’t want people to do proofreading and formatting, then include that in your instructions.

    OTOH, if these are final versions, or you’re sending them for any reason at all other than for commenting, then say that! I don’t mean to be pedantic, but I’ve read the letter a couple of times, and I’m still not clear as to whether the OP is generally expecting “some edits but only useful ones,” or “no edits at all.”

    I’m actually 100% sure that this is a power play by the employee either way. I think it’s kind of Alison to give him the benefit of the doubt, but if he’s doing things like correcting capitalization and spacing and then sending it out under his own name, I just don’t see how he could be acting in good faith. But whatever his intent, the first step in getting him to knock it off is for the OP to be clear up front about why she’s sending the docs. Then it’s immediately also clear if he’s disregarding her instructions, and she can go straight to “I asked for X and you gave me Y, and you need to stop doing that.”

  31. Snickerdoodle

    Any chance he has a background where he was taught these type of changes mattered? I have a consulting and marketing background and was trained that if someone gives you a deck or materials to look over, you should Frankenstein it and point out all of the nitpicky spacing, inconsistent font, and grammar errors. He might just need coaching on the appropriate time to do this.

  32. Anoncorporate

    I work in a more traditional (maybe???) team where the direct reports are actually younger than the manager…but I would never think to edit (without being asked/out of context) a higher up’s work. I wouldn’t even do this to a coworker because, well, it WOULD seem like a power play. We do operate in a structure where peer editing is encouraged, but outside of this context, I would never make unsolicited edits.

  33. Dr. Crusher was a great boss

    Allow me to preach the gospel of the Office/Agency/Company Style Guide. Do you have one? If so, his nit-picky edits should be in line with them. If not, maybe he can write one if he has time? I’m mentioning this specifically because the provided examples of his edits seemed to be the kind of things that might be clarified in a style guide for the sake of consistency, when it comes to externally facing documents.

  34. NeverReplyAll

    Bcc the initial email. As a point of policy, Bcc ALL information-only emails, or such emails where you desire direct feedback rather than discussion.

    And if he makes edits and sends them on with multiple cc, come down on him for wasting server resources (and apply this as a blanket policy for everyone). If he edits and sends back directly, you can simply ignore or ask for an update of what he’s doing next.

  35. angst ridden hipster

    I want to get behind the LW and, presuming she is not sending these documents out under cover of an email that asks for the team’s views, I think this does sound like a power-play. However, I can’t get over her description of her team as her “employees.” It’s clear from her letter that she isn’t their employer, just their line manager – why would she describe them as her employees? This makes me think her command of English is poor and that this guy’s corrections might be more helpful than she realises.

    1. OP

      You’re right, I don’t sign their paychecks. I would have thought the vernacular was common enough to convey meaning. Feel free to sub in “direct report” if it bothers you so much. My command of English is just fine, thank you very much.

    2. RUKidding

      It’s pretty standard usage, even from English as a first language people.

      Whether OP’s command of English is good or bad us irrelevant. She *is* his superior, it *is* a power play, and IMO is at least hovering at the edge of insubordination.

      That, not OP’s grasp of English, is the issue.

  36. OP

    OP here! Alison, thank you for your thoughts and I appreciate all the comments as well.

    The answer is definitely (C). These are internal policy/procedure documents that only are seen by my team. When I send these out, my only directive is telling them to look them over and make sure it makes sense to them, and to let me know if they have any questions.
    A brief example of one of the edits:
    Original – “(document) will be sent to analyst for further review”
    Edited – “(document) will be sent to the analyst for further review”

    So while not incorrect, the original meaning was not at all unclear, and adding the article “the” seems overly nitpicky.

    1. LibbyG

      Well, then, that’s not fixing an error; it’s just him trying to impose a stylistic choice.

      I like Alison’s script for telling him that this activity isn’t worth anyone’s time. But it sounds like the first message has to include an unambiguous “stop,” and not just “this isn’t needed.”

    2. Essess

      Nitpicking about word choice, but I think it would be considered on-topic for this letter…. I admit that I think he is actually correct for the usage of “the” with “to”. Since analyst isn’t a proper noun, you aren’t “sending to analyst”, you are “sending to THE analyst” so it isn’t a style preference but is an actual grammar fix and would be a realistic correction for a public document. This is in comparison to saying “sending to Fred” where you wouldn’t say “sending to THE Fred”. However, he still has no business cc:ing everyone else instead of sending directly to you if he honestly thinks this should be fixed.

      1. AJHall

        There could be a rotating team of duty analysts rather than a single person holding that role, in which case “an” would be more correct than “the” and omitting the definite article a nifty way of avoiding having to choose.

        In any event, leaving it out is a common and acceptable informal/semi-formal usage.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Especially since these are informal, internal missives. Mostly though, not Dude’s job. He hasn’t been assigned proofreading or editing duties. It is 10000% a power play and he needs to knock it off immediately.

          OP I really hope you put a stop to this right away, hard, with extreme prejudice.

          Oops…and with extreme prejudice… (•_•)

      2. Spencer Hastings

        Hard disagree. The example sounds like it’s from a bullet-pointed list of steps for something. Thus, all bets are off.

        It’s like how a recipe will say something like “Add wet ingredients to mixing bowl”, or “Cook vegetables until desired tenderness”. These sentence structures would be out of place in a piece of long-form prose like an essay or an article, for instance, but other types of documents do exist.

  37. jeff

    It’s interesting that every time there’s a minor/major problem regarding a female in a leadership position sexism is brought up.

    As a male who has held many different positions, I promise that some men(just like some women) can just generally be jerks…it doesn’t inherently mean they’re sexist lol.

    1. Indie

      It is the OP’s boss who thinks he is sexist, and presumably s/he has more of a bird’s eye view than we do.

      It would be a power play and jerk-ishness for any gender mix to behave so, but there’s usually a powerful reason for doing something as risky as tweaking the nose of your boss. Either ‘I should have that job, not you’ or plain old ‘I don’t like your kind’. Maybe it’s the former or maybe he is only a jerk to bosses, buuuut…

      Being patronising is a type of behaviour quite easily linked to sexism. It would be foolish to ignore the possibility.

      It’s not definitely the reason but it would comfortably explain it. It’s not like sexism is mythical or rare.

      1. RUKidding

        Not only not rare, sexism is as common as bibles in church, rain in Seattle, pineapples on Maui…politicians lying… It is an absolute fact of life for women to one degree or another.

        Sime male in his late50s/early 50s is upset that a *woman* is his boss. Add in that she is younger…

        He can’t afford to be openly hostile and lose his job so he’s being passive aggressive.

    2. RUKidding

      Sure some guys are just jerks. Women don’t really need you to explain sexism to them. They live on this planet. They know sexism. Trust me.

      Also you don’t need to inform women that “not all men.” They are smart enough to figure it out. Again, we live on this planet. We know “sexism” vs “jerk.”

      1. Indie

        “Not all men” Mmmhmmm. Were more obvious words ever spoken?
        I know so many lovely men that it always takes me by surprise when you get *that* attitude from someone. That smirk, that sigh, the play acting that you’re so hopeless you need to be interrupted and taught. I always think on some level that the last time was the last time and I am startled enough to start doubting myself.
        It’s so …different from the normal interactions that it is the most unfamiliar, and yet the most familiar dynamic I have experienced.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Yup. I used to try and give the benefit of the doubt, but then the other shoe always, always, always drops. They always do some sexist shit. I mean Jeff’s comment about sexism was sexist…and I bet he doesn’t even see that. SMH

  38. RUKidding

    “Hey Sexist-Ageist-Jealous-Dude, did I ask you to proofread, edit, or make style changes for me? No? Stop doing it.”

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