my coworkers want to bond over numerology, is my boss trying to thwart my raise request, and more

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

1. How can I get out of numerology at work?

My team is small, we get along great, and are fairly close. The other day, my well-intentioned, very nice, and otherwise very sane coworkers got into a full discussion about all the, for lack of a better term, hippie nonsense they wanted to participate in as a group bonding activity.

Apparently, before I started, they did some activity where they added up the numbers in their birthday to find their “number” so they can “better understand each other’s work personalities” and therefore work better together. This devolved into conversations about astrological signs, charts of some kind, and sun and moon signs. All fine, they’re more than welcome to talk about it do what they’d like between themselves. But then the suggestion came up that we should do it as a group activity so we can understand the best ways to approach each other, etc.

I … I do not know how to get out of this, being the only one who seems to think this is all crazy. If it were just-for-fun activity, I’d participate and just take no notice, but the fact that they think they want to use this to then adjust how they actually treat each other in the workplace worries me quite a bit. And, truth be told, I’m not 100% sure if my boss is on board with this, though a coworker said when they did it last time, she “loved” it.

Can I get out of this with any valid reason, and without looking like a curmudgeon? Should I just do it and ignore the so-called “results” and deal with any issues that stem from it as (and if) they arise?

At a minimum, you can say, “Honestly, this is very much not for me, and I’m especially not on board with using it to tailor how we approach each other.” If your team were large, I’d just leave it there — it’s not for you and you’re opting out. But because your team is small, you actually do have room to propose the group skip it entirely (because if your team is, say, four people, you’re 25% of it and have the standing to no, this isn’t a good team activity, in a way you wouldn’t necessarily be able to say on a 20-person team where 19 others wanted to do it). So in your particular context: “Honestly, this is very much not for me, and I’m especially not on board with using it to tailor how we approach each other. I’d be really uncomfortable with this being a team activity — can we skip it?”

2. Is my boss trying to thwart my raise request?

Last year, I took over a technical writing position at my company. I’m doing well, but I think my boss is trying to stifle my request for a raise.

Compared to my predecessors, I have nearly double my output, while having better overall work quality. My current boss calls me a rock star. My previous boss even recommended that I be considered for a higher position within the company when he left the company.

Last month, my boss gave me a raise out of the blue. It was a very hasty meeting, and the raise itself was much, much less than what I would have asked for; it was a $1,000 per year raise. To put it into perspective: even with this raise, my salary still does not come close to the market rate for the work that I do. My company is expanding and is not in any sort of financial hardship.

I believe that if I try to do a salary negotiation at the one-year mark, my boss will point to my previous salary increase and use this to justify pushing my request for a salary increase to a later date. What do you recommend?

I wouldn’t assume he was deliberately plotting to thwart you from asking for more money; he might have just thought you were doing a good job and wanted to show you that in a tangible way … especially since this doesn’t prevent you from asking for more if you want to.

When you’re at your one-year mark and ready to ask for a raise, go ahead and do it without regard to this small mid-year bump. Point out that you’ve doubled the output of your role, and cite the other contributions you’ve made and the market rate for the work.

If your boss pushes back by saying that he already gave you a mid-year raise, you can say, “I appreciated that! But what I’m asking for is $X, which I think my work warrants, especially given that our competitors are paying $Y.” (If you can’t specifically cite competitors, you can change that language to “especially in light of the overall market for this work.”)

3. I don’t want people sitting on my desk

I’m in a job I love with coworkers who are fairly wonderful. Though I have difficulty with social interaction sometimes and tend to be highly formal, they stop by my desk to chat often, and I enjoy the work friendships.

Until they put their rear ends on my desk. I’ve put a chair in my area to redirect the bottoms, a placemat on the desk to discourage sitting, and even started putting my lunchbox and purse on top of the placemat. It’s still an inviting area for some reason. I eat at my desk. Ugh.

I’m afraid of coming off too curt, because I do have that resting b— face, and I really am not good socially. I’d rather have their rear ends there than lose the visits.

The best way to do this is to frame it as a peculiar quirk of yours — as in, “I have a weird thing about people sitting on my desk — can I relocate you into that chair?”

4. Is my former manager too busy to meet up?

I have a question about an ex-manager who is too busy to meet up. I have worked with this manager for over one year and developed a really good relationship with her, and we are even friends via Facebook. Recently, this manager left the organization, which has been quite a sad loss for me. On her last day, we agreed that I could still come to visit her in her new role.

It’s been over a month now since her departure, and I have recently taken to contact her and ask whether she would like to be meet up for lunch. Her responses to me have been quite curt lately. She advised me of her unavailability on certain days, and availability on other days depending on what’s going on.

I feel a bit disappointed by her response as my intention was really just to catch up with her (which I did mention to her). Is she really just too busy at her new job or doesn’t really care about me anymore?

She’s probably just busy at her new job. It’s only been a month, which is very little time at all. Normally I’d have said to give it a few months before trying to set something up. But if she’s telling you she’s available for lunch on specific days, that sounds like she’s offering to meet for lunch on one of them, so why not take her up on it, pick one of those dates, and set up lunch then? If she backs out, then assume that yes, she’s too busy, and give it a few months before you try again. If it doesn’t work then, then yeah, I’d leave it there. That wouldn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t care about you, but people often don’t stay in touch when they change jobs because they get busy with other things, and it’s not personal.

Even if you do meet up for lunch, though, I’d advise tempering your expectations. Unless you have an unusually close relationship, this might be a “we get lunch once or twice and that’s it” situation, or a “we get lunch once every six months or so” situation, rather than something where you’re going to continue to see each other frequently. Pay attention to her cues, and see if she issues her own invitations, and match your level of outreach roughly to hers.

5. Well-meaning people keep offering me condolences … and it’s a lot

My mother died last year. She was a prominent public figure in our region; accordingly, many people remember her fondly. Ever since she died, clients of mine have been bringing up her death and offering condolences. This happens several times a week, often accompanied by lengthy reminiscences.

I know people mean well, but it’s incredibly draining. No one seems to consider that their comment might be the fifth one of its kind I’ve heard that day. Snowflake, avalanche, etc. She died suddenly and I’m only in my 20s, which I’m sure is also a factor: people see me, in that moment, not as a professional peer but as an orphan to comfort. One woman even offered to be a “surrogate mom whenever [I] need one.”

What, in theory, is a supportive gesture ends up, in practice, as a lot of emotional labor for me. It’s not pleasant to be forcibly reminded of my mother’s death multiple times per day, especially in a professional context. It takes me out of the moment. I don’t want to be rude — again, I really do appreciate it — but I need an appropriate way to shut this down.

That sounds so hard, I’m sorry. I don’t think there’s a way to head it off from ever coming up, unfortunately (although if readers have ideas about that, I’d welcome them in the comments), but I do think you can politely shut it down once it starts. When someone offers condolences, you can say, “Thank you, that’s kind of you” and then immediately transition into a work topic. Do that fairly quickly; if you let a silence sit there first, people are going to clearly going to start filling it with more remembrances about your mom, so make that transition a quick one.

Most people will follow your lead, but for those who don’t — for those who see you changing to a work topic and bring it back to your mom anyway — try saying, “I prefer not to talk about it at work, but I wanted to ask you about (insert work-related topic here).” Or “It’s difficult to talk about at work, I’m sure you understand” or “Oh thank you, but it’s actually easier for me to stay focused on work while I’m here” or so forth — all followed by an immediate change of subject to a work topic.

What other thoughts do people have?

{ 534 comments… read them below }

  1. Kitty

    With the desk sitters – it’s possible they see sitting down in the chair as more formal like “we are having a discussion”, or like sitting means they’re staying for longer, and feel like leaning against the desk is more casual or indicates just a quick chat. But I think almost everyone would respond well to Alison’s script to use the chair. Anyone who doesn’t is a jerk and that’s an entirely different problem to desk sitting!

    1. valentine

      I think they’re moving the purse and just hopping right up on there. A butt lean where no more than, say, an inch is affected, might be tolerable. I would make a face, wave, and say, “Oh, no! Use the chair.”

    2. sheworkshardforthemoney

      I still remember one co-worker who used to push my work aside and plant her butt on my desk. Any words I used to get her behind off my desk failed. It’s the one thing I remember with ire, years later. I see desk sitters as doing it as a power move. Maybe try the biggest stack of binders you have and see if they push that out of the way.

      1. Tarra

        I really don’t think you need to try to live with a stack of binders.

        This is a case of needing to use words.

        1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

          I used my words in a semi-joking / passive-aggressive (no, I’m not actually proud of it) way to suggest maybe I should get pigeon spikes. But then the desk-butting in my case wasn’t even to talk to me, but the colleague on the next desk over. Oh, the joys of an open office!

          Not exactly words of advice, more of empathy. You should be able to get the decent people to pull up your visitor chair if you offer it in a friendly inviting tone. The other approach is to offer it, but then refuse to engage if they choose to ignore the chair and perch.
          Unfortunatley, if you work with jerks, not even this will help.

          One final thing though – is there a preference for eating lunch at your desk? Just a thought, but taking a break away from your desk, just for lunch, has been shown to help improve concentration and performance, and if it’s a key factor in your disliking of the desk-butt, maybe getting away from your desk will help mitigate that?

          1. Busy

            They would sit on your desk to talk to someone else? Yeah, that would make me angry, and I am not even a person who cares if people sit on my desk. It is so rude on so many levels.

            I would have to give a firm, “Please do not sit on my desk. It is a very distracting for me to get my work done.” I do this as my cube is on a corner near the breakroom, and people stop and chat with each other loudly right beside my desk. They need a reminder people are working there.

            But that doesn’t help the OP. The only thing I would say is to follow Allison’s advice.

            Me personally? I would never sit ona desk. I have this irrational fear of collapse! Ah I have seen it!

            1. valentine

              To me, a desk has drawers, while a table does not, so I always picture these people sitting over the sturdy/drawer portion. If this is a tabletop and in a cubicle, that’s worse and worse, as you’re hemmed in thisclose to an unwanted butt.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood

                A lot of places call the surface where you work at a computer your desk even if it’s just a table. Ours are ergonomic and adjustable and have a storage shelf — but no drawers. (I have a low file cabinet next to mine.)
                I previously worked in an open office where the “desk” was really just a huge shelf with pencil drawer. It was mounted to the low cubicle wall on one end and file cabinet base at the other. We were specifically told the desks weren’t rated to support people….and it was insurance industry so no one sat on them!

            2. sheworkshardforthemoney

              Yes! My desk was the first one as soon as anyone came into the open office setup. So it was natural for people to stop and chat with each other as they were coming and going. But it was still rage inducing to have 3 or 4 people catching up in front of my desk with one butt perched less than 2 feet from my face. Concentration was impossible.

              1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

                Wow, for a second there I thought I’d replied to myself with a different persona! You have 100% of my sympathy – that has *consistently* been my experience during my time here! (Although, after a recent desk move, I’m no longer the first desk near the door – I’m now the first desk near the space where the teams intersect, so it’s not random people stopping for a chat, but interteam conflabs, so a marginal improvement…)

                Our desks are sort of freestanding tables with drawers underneath – the drawers are fully mobile, but the tables also have all the wiring for the computers built in, so they’re slightly more sturdy than e.g. a cafeteria table – still not a place for bottoms though!

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathrooms

          I had one desk-sitter who would sit right next to my keyboard. I used words (including straight up asking that she not sit on my desk, and explaining that I eat off the exact space she was sitting in). Went in her one ear and out of the other. Brought an extra chair into my cube when I knew she was coming over. Didn’t help. Eventually her job responsibilities changed to where she and I did not work together anymore and she stopped coming over. I mean, I’ve done it myself when I was a teenager, but I’ve grown since then and realized that planting my nether regions all over people’s working/eating area might not be the best idea. Neither is me sitting on their desk next to them when they’re working, so that my butt is inches from their face. I honestly think it’s gross, and sympathize with the OP.

          PS. (scrolled down and saw Jennifer Juniper’s comment) somehow it does not bother me when cats to this. Maybe I need a different line of work where all my coworkers *are* cats.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood

        Hmmmmm…. I moved my computer onto my desktop long ago because I have long legs and little space under the desk. I wonder if this is why I haven’t encountered enough desk-sitters to develop a dislike for it.

      3. a1

        I really don’t think it’s a power move. It’s more convenient. For example, it’s especially easier if you have bad knees and both sitting in a chair only (only to get up again a few moments later) is difficult, and standing for any time, hurts. I can tell you this is a big part of why I lean on or sit on desks. They are conveniently closer to butt height than a chair. Longer conversations = chair. A (hopefully) quick question or chat = lean or desk sit. That said, I’d never move a stack of stuff to sit, and if someone asked I certainly wouldn’t still sit on desk. The other part is the casualness, that someone else mentioned, vs more formal discussion. It also indicates that this should be quick. So desk lean or sit = quick, casual with the added benefit of not hurting. Full chair sit = longer, and probably more serious or in-depth, discussion.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          The lean is fine with me. It’s the full-on butt on top of desk, feet hanging off the desk because the person is sitting on it like in a chair and their feet don’t reach the floor, that I’m having problems with.

          My desk-sitter would send me a meeting invite, schedule the time on my calendar, walk in, ignore the chair I’d brought in for her, and sit down on my desk. This person was short, and had to jump up to assume a seating position on the desk. Why, I have no idea.

          1. Blerpborp

            Yeah, a desk lean or just a little smidge of butt on the edge of a desk (far from where a person may be putting things or their lunch) doesn’t seem to crazy (and really the most I’ve ever seen anywhere I’ve worked) but full butt on the desk with dangling legs- that seems like something only a child would do!

      4. WakeUp!

        I really don’t think the OP’s coworkers mean it as a power move. They just have a casual relationship with OP and want a place to rest their butt. I don’t think it helps OP to assume the worst here.

    3. Jennifer Juniper

      @Kitty: I thought those people were actually sitting on the desk. I can see why the OP would be grossed out by that! The desk-sitting mystifies me as well. Are all the OP’s coworkers cats?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        Ironically I grew up sitting on desks & counters at home but hate the idea of animals on my counters. I know that *I* didn’t just come from a litter box…
        Sigh. I have to stop pulling this discussion back up. It’s much more fun than my Monday task.
        Anti-procrastination Monday here I come!

        1. Dust Bunny

          Ditto. I’m fine with people sitting on my desk but no way in heck are my cats allowed on counters or eating tables. Yuck.

          I assume most people wash their pants and skirts, and there are probably at least two layers of clothing between the desk and their rear end, anyway. Plus, purses get rested on floors, bus seats, etc., and are washed, if at all, much less often than clothing, which hardly makes them a cleaner alternative.

          1. teclatrans

            It has never occurred to me to be worried about people’s clothed backsides as sources of dirt & germs. Their hands are a much more likely vector of germs than their pants. My cats, on the other hand, don’t wear clothing over their bums.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House

        I was thinking she should cover the more appealing parts of her desk in sticky-side-up masking tape. That’s how I keep my cat off the fishtank.

      3. Amethystmoon

        I once worked on a team in an open environment where one of the managers (not my boss) was like that. If you would have asked her to please not sit on your desk, she would have yelled at you in front of everyone for daring to ask such a thing of her, and it would have been acceptable because she had a manager title and I had a support person title, and no one else would have questioned it.

        I recently visited that division of the company for a Toastmasters event and was glad to see that there are now at least half-partitions on desks, which would have prevented her physically from sitting on the desk when I was working there.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      I would even modify the script a bit. No need to put this on a quirk the OP may have. Just simply say “Please don’t sit on my desk” and leave it at that.

      1. Karen from Finance

        The idea of framing it as a quirk comes from a common advice Alison often gives. Even though you may be right (as OP is here), people are more likely to respond better and actually do what you want if you frame it as if you are the weird one, not them. It doesn’t matter if this is not necessarily true – you don’t wanna be true, you want the behavior to change. So in this sense I prefer Alison’s script, as it’s less confrontational I think it may be more effective. If this framing doesn’t work then yes, by all means do move to more direct communication.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

          Yes I understand why she suggested adding it as a quirk, but I don’t like adding excuses and reasons when you have a reasonable request. It’s also about tone of voice, and saying “Please don’t sit on my desk” in a nice tone is not confrontational at all.

        2. Michaela Westen

          I think no matter how nicely you try to say it, “Please don’t sit on my desk” will come across as annoyed to some people. If OP is trying not to change the friendly social atmosphere, I think framing it as her quirk is the first thing to try.

          1. Washi

            And honestly, some people WILL see not wanting people to sit on a desk to be an odd quirk, and framing it that way helps smooth over the awkwardness of being embarrassed that you were doing something to annoy the other person this whole time.

            I feel like sometimes on here people are like why give reasons? Why be extra nice? And to me, in a work setting absent abusive dynamics, I wonder why not be extra nice? Why not give a reason and keep feathers unruffled? If people ignore the nice request, then you can move to “please don’t sit on my desk” but I don’t see what there is to lose by starting gentle.

            1. teclatrans

              Me! I see not wanting people to sit on the desk to be a weird quirk — one tgat I would be happy to comply with once I know it exists. I would be baffled and taken aback if I got a curt “please don’t sit on my desk.” I would still comply, but would have no idea whether my coworker was irritated with me overall, upset about something I did, etc. Before reading this post and responses, it would never have occurred to me that some people are skeeved out by it. (It seems pretty illogical to me, honestly. But I would respect the boundary if my coworker set it.)

              1. Jadelyn

                Same. As someone said upthread, hands are more likely to be dirty than clothed butts, so it doesn’t really make sense to me and I’m inclined to view it as someone just having a Thing about it rather than a logical response. So yeah, I would think it’s a weird quirk for someone to not want me to lean on their desk – but if they expressed it as such, okay, I can comply with that, and it eases the wondering of “are they mad at me now?” that a dry “please don’t sit on my desk”.

              2. Parenthetically

                Absolutely the same thoughts all around! I would never think that the seat of my pants, which are objectively cleaner than the hems of my pants, or my hands, or a phone, doorknob, or keyboard, would gross someone out. But I’d definitely comply if someone framed it as “Oh, hey, sorry — weird quirk about people sitting on my desk, can you go for the chair instead please?” A straight “please don’t sit on the desk” reads as more… scolding? Or at least like an adult instructing a child, even if not scolding.

              3. SarahTheEntwife

                I don’t feel grossed out by it, but I’m using my desk and it would annoy me if someone sat on my workspace.

            2. Psyche

              I agree. While you don’t need to justify it, sometimes you have something to gain and nothing to lose by giving a reason anyway. If justifying a request involves revealing personal information, then it isn’t worth it. In this case it simply makes the OP sound friendlier.

            3. Karen from Finance

              Right! You don’t NEED to justify it, but it doesn’t hurt, and it’s better for everyone if you make some extra effort.

            4. smoke tree

              I agree with this! I also think commenters may be underestimating how much tone plays into this. They may be imagining saying something like, “Could you please sit in the chair instead?” with a warm tone, but in text it comes across a flat “Don’t sit on my desk.” For people who write in and aren’t sure how to phrase such a request, I think it’s helpful to provide some tips for how to minimize tension. For those who don’t need those tips, that’s fine too, but everyone has to start somewhere.

        3. JSPA

          Just as a toothbrush isn’t microbiologically so different from a fork (but forks are ok on the dinner table / on your plate, and toothbrushes are not)…a person’s hand is a greater vector for disease and dirt than the clothed edge of a butt. That’s yet another reason to reframe as a “personal quirk” the fact it bothers you, rather than something we should all agree is disgusting.

          I wouldn’t sit someplace dirty, or wear soiled clothes, so it would not occur to me that my hip resting on the same general surface as your lunch bag was offensive. And the bacteria on your desk will mostly come from your hands (picked up from all manner of shared resources and door knobs).

          I’d probably go with a perch – friendly high stool. Or tape off about 9 square inches of the corner of the desk and both literally and mentally assign that as the “sitting zone.” If you mark it off, you may be able to trick your (common and understandable but not rationally- based) sense of revulsion at having no division between “food place” and “ass place.”

          I’d gladly trade for all the ass-perchers to get rid of a single pencil / pen / “just one staple” borrower with a cold or flu. (Which I deal with by having a labeled “shared use / use and return” tray of pens / pencils / sharpies / stapler, which i alcohol – wipe if I need to use anything from it, and a “my private stuff” tray.)

          1. LJay

            I mean, I’d have no problem with a toothbrush being on my dinner table or plate. It’s been in my mouth and it’s going back in my mouth.

            So yeah, personal quirk all the way.

          2. Blerpborp

            I do think so much of germaphobia comes more from what seems gross than what actually carries harmful germs. The odds of someone having actually soiled their work clothes so much to the degree that it would impart fecal germs on the OP’s desk is pretty minimal but it seems gross therefore it grosses them out and they don’t like it. It’s like when something gross is happening on TV and someone is like “I’m eating!” That gross thing isn’t going to infect their good through the TV but it’s unappetizing all the same (I can eat no matter what’s on!) It still would weird me out if people fully sat on my desk all the time- it feels weirdly intimate and in my personal space.

      2. NDC

        Yeah, I know Alison frequently advises the “quirk” language as a way to soften the request, but if it’s a behaviour that is commonly regarded as objectionable, I feel it would have to be delivered in a very specific tone to not come across as sarcastic. (I acknowledge that this may be a cultural thing.) An extreme example: “I have this weird quirk about being poked in the eye – could you please not do that?”

        If you’re going to have to work that hard on your tone anyway, just stick to a simple “Hey, could you please not sit on my desk?” delivered in a friendly tone, maybe with a smile. Once they’ve complied, switch back to the topic of conversation so that any weirdness they might feel passes quickly.

    5. gsa

      I’ve had good luck making up a sign with an image of what you don’t want people to do.

      In this case a silhouette of a desk with a person sitting on it with a red circle and a slash through it, and the caption, “I am not a chair.”

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          Someone who consistently ignores your wishes regarding your own desk might deserve that.

          1. Bethany B

            What they “deserve” isn’t the issue. If you want to preserve a good working relationship and you want these people to keep dropping by, which the OP has said they do, you cannot pull this passive aggressive stunt. It will torpedo the relationship, and rightly so.

            I’m a percher – I sit/lean on desks all the time. It’s comfortable, informal and easy. And I promise my jeans are cleaner than the average desk (which research shows has 400 times the germs of a toilet seat). If my colleague couldn’t bring themself to say “Hey, can I ask you not to sit on the desk please?” and instead put up a sign like that, my opinion of them would be… well, in the toilet. It’s just so ridiculously unnecessary and suggests you are completely incapable to being direct, honest and straightforward with anyone.

            If you are comfortable with looking like the kind of passive aggressive twit who needs to make a sign (!!!), well, you do you, sweetie. I’ll be over here with the grownups, using our words.

            1. Rusty Shackelford

              Mmmkay, condescending much? Next time I’ll add a wink so you know not to get so worked up about a half-joke. :) But I will also add that if you’re sitting on someone else’s desk and waiting for them to tell you to stop, you might take a long hard look at the posts here that show exactly how how strongly some people feel about it.

              1. Jadelyn

                Except that there are also posts here that show that the “ew a butt on a desk” sentiment is by no means universal, so I really don’t think “some people here feel strongly about it” should translate to “therefore assume everyone feels like that about it and change your behavior”. I’d still expect someone to use their words if they don’t want me doing that, rather than expecting me to just somehow know they don’t want me doing that.

                1. lmj

                  Or you could use YOUR words and ask if they mind when you’re about to hop up onto their desk. Communication is two ways, and now you know that this bothers some people very severely. What you do with that is your choice, but you are entirely capable of asking people if it bothers them.

            2. poolgirl

              “If you are comfortable with looking like the kind of passive aggressive twit who needs to make a sign (!!!), well, you do you, sweetie. I’ll be over here with the grownups, using our words.”
              Wow, this is got to be one of, if not the, most unkind replies I have ever seen on this site. Extremely passive-aggressive itself, and the sweetie comment is quite condescending. Hopefully Allison will remove this if she sees it.

                1. KILROY was here.

                  Seriously? Taking offense at this relatively innocuous comment (and suggesting it should be deleted (!)) is why the annoying and ubiquitous “snowflake” accusation has gained traction; it’s like red meat to the anti-PC crowd, and no wonder. How people function in today’s world while inhabiting such a thin skin is beyond me.

            3. lmj

              The person you responded to has:
              “Someone who consistently ignores your wishes regarding your own desk. . .”

              Implying that they HAVE used their words and their words have been ignored. This is specifically a suggestion for escalation. It might not be a wise suggestion, but they aren’t suggesting that to avoid “using our words”.

              “If you are comfortable with looking like the kind of passive aggressive twit who needs to make a sign (!!!), well, you do you, sweetie. I’ll be over here with the grownups, using our words.”
              This is… incredibly patronizing, especially given your own lack of reading comprehension.

              It’s strange that you are so against looking like a “passive-aggressive twit” and yet you’ll hop to the most condescending response immediately when you think someone is suggesting something you think is slightly “rude”.

        2. Artemesia

          This — the cutesy note or sign is inexplicably enraging to me as is the soft voiced passive aggressive request. It is probably my quirk but I still remember 40 years later the jerk at major prestigious university where I was for a seminar and lunch was ordered in. I was nursing and so ordered two milks as well as my sandwich and fruit and when the stuff arrived, I took my two milks. Apparently they didn’t order enough and someone didn’t get milk and the leader said ‘some of us need to be considerate and make sure everyone has been served before they take seconds.’ So pissed me off as I had taken precisely what my requested order had been. Of course I was happy to offer the second when someone was short, but. BUT. — Silly to be so angry about it, but it was the soft ‘let us all reason to gather, nicey nice voice’ of this jerk not the request at all. JUST say it.

          1. JSPA

            That’s offensive because a) the presumption was wrong b) a message to one person was said to a group c) there was shaming going on. None of those things apply in this case. Signs are not intrinsically pass-ag. Here, it would be used to notify all people of a general rule that remains in play even (especially?) when OP is not there to say something. It may strike me as quirky, but people are allowed to have quirks.

          2. Jennifer Juniper

            Ah! Thank you for explaining something I’ve been having trouble with! I go into nicey nicey nice mode as a way to smooth things over when someone makes a mistake, which upsets others. I appreciate you explaining things from the other’s perspective.

      1. CM

        This suggestion reminds me of the signs people have on their lawn asking people not to let their dogs poop there. And when I read the letter I imagined a sign with a picture of a butt with a slash through it, placed in the corner of the desk where people usually sit. Not because I think that would be appropriate or effective, but it would be funny. Anyway, I think signs aren’t needed here — a simple, “Hey, can you not sit on the desk?” or “Sorry, for some reason it bothers me when people sit on my desk. Can you move to the chair?” should work with these otherwise wonderful coworkers.

    6. ButtDesk

      Someone was sitting on my desk recently (while I sat there uncomfortable and wanting to speak up). My wonderful boss cruised by and casually, matter-of-factly, said, “can you not sit on the desk?” – channeling her inner Alison I suspect! He hopped down right away and it was not awkward at all! I think you’re right here. Anyone who makes it weird and awkward after being asked has a totally different problem.

    7. Tigger

      I had a boss who sat on our desks as a power move. This might be your work area but I allow you to be here type of thing.

      1. Artemesia

        I’d be so tempted to always spill a little coffee on that part of the desk. Thinking it would only take once. (and of course only if asking had not been successful). Plants can leak water too without you noticing at all if you know what I mean.

    8. HarvestKaleSlaw

      I agree. Maybe if you have enough room in your cube for a cheap, wheelie, adjustable stool, you can park it directly in front of the part of the desk where people usually sit and lure the bottoms away to sit there.

    9. Cheryl Blossom

      I’ll be honest, I like sitting on desks and find it comfortable…but I don’t sit at the ones people are using! That seems rude!

      Otoh I don’t get why people think it’s gross. I’m wearing pants. It’s not like my butt is touching the desk!

      1. iglwif

        Yeah, this is me. If my feet won’t be touching the floor anyway, which they won’t because my legs are very short, I might as well have room to swing my legs :) But obviously if someone *asked me not to sit on their desk* I would stop, because continuing to do it after being asked not to would be hella rude.

        People have all kinds of irrational worries about germs, and I don’t understand why sitting on a desk while fully clothed is gross but I’m not gonna argue with the desk owner about it! Rationally, the worst thing someone can do is use your mouse or touch your phone, but I know a lot of people who wouldn’t be bothered by that yet do worry about sitting directly on a toilet seat. (I guess it’s kind of like people who are nervous about flying but think nothing of getting behind the wheel of a car multiple times a day — the latter is clearly much more dangerous but the former somehow feels scarier, and, well, people feel how they feel.)

    10. Little Did She Know

      OP here, and I appreciate these thoughtful responses. I see that it’s time to use my words.

      Since I do have a overly formal sort of tendency and I’d like to make this light, I’m thinking of something like “Oh, would you mind with the booty? I have a chair…”

      One commenter suggested putting the chair near where they tend to sit, but the cubicle arrangement allows one place for the chair. It’s not an intuitive place for someone to sit, as it’s directly behind me.

      Also, the commenter who suggested that taking lunch away from the desk is a healthy idea- that’s true. It’s probably not just a relaxing sort of this to do to get away from the desk environment, but is likely to help with the social anxiety over time.

      Thanks again. I appreciate the validation, the laughs (no, they’re not cats but I wish they were) from suggestions like double-sided tape and spilled coffee.

      1. Jennifer Juniper

        The word “booty” may also read as low-class and uneducated in certain environments. Not appropriate in a professional setting.

  2. Member of the Dead Moms Club, which no one wants to join

    LW #5 — My condolences. I went through a milder version of this when my very memorable mother died. Every time I saw someone for the first time since her death, they wanted to talk about her. It was partly to comfort me and partly to process the loss themselves, but as you said, it was incredibly emotionally draining.
    It takes a long time, but you really will eventually get to a point when you’ve seen everyone once and they go back to “normal” interactions. (Maybe this will be different for you, depending on how prominent she was and on what her field was.) So — I don’t have any suggestions for shortening the conversations that would be better than Alison’s script, but hang in there and know that they’ll eventually end.
    This may also be one of those moments to deploy the office gossip to see if they can spread the word that you don’t want to talk about it at work…

    1. valentine

      OP5: This sounds absolutely exhausting. I’d be on edge. Everyone would be Schrödinger’s Mourner. If the work has set clients and is not more like a library, I’d ask my manager to head them off via email: “While we all have fond memories of Lee and you might want to offer them or your condolences to OP5, we ask that you not do so. Rest assured they are doing well and are eager to focus on our shared work.”

      1. Batgirl

        I think this is a very good idea but I can’t believe people need the reminder!
        They are bringing up a bereavement from a year ago unprompted..in a work situation.
        Go to the funeral at the time, or send a card, or follow OPs cues. If she doesnt launch into a ‘remember when’ with gusto….maybe don’t do it for her?’

        1. Penny Plain

          The letter says the mother died last year, not a year ago. It could have been just a few weeks if they died near the end of the year. People probably just feel it would be rude and unkind not to offer their condolences if this is the first time they’ve seen OP since it happened, and aren’t seeing the bigger picture.

        2. valentine

          There are people hurt when no one says anything after a certain time, and those who feel in-person is best, so I can see why these people feel the need to say something the first time they see OP5 in person. I don’t get why they think they’re unique and the cumulative effect doesn’t occur to them, though.

        3. CJM

          OP said last year, not a year ago. This could mean less than 3 months. It should decrease with time.

        4. Mrs. H. Kenway

          You can’t believe people need “a reminder” to NOT do the thing that society regards as polite and correct, and that most people remind others to DO?

          This is almost akin to saying, “I can’t believe people need to be reminded to not say thank you for gifts they’ve been given because too much time has passed.”

          Expressing condolences in person is a proper and correct thing to do, especially if one knew the deceased. The fact that you seem to think a year is “too late” to express them, as if the bereaved has forgotten their loss or is over it by then, is immensely confusing to me, frankly. The LW apparently doesn’t appreciate it, but most people do.

      2. Tarra

        I don’t think you can do this. I think it would be very hard to word, it could come across badly and end up in a newspaper article.

        1. valentine

          I’m rather proud of my wording. Feeling the need to, what, publicly shame the manager or chastise OP5 for not wanting to be a receptacle just shows it’s wrong to put her in that position.

          1. Karen from Finance

            I agree the wording is fine and I would think it would be very very weird if I came across a newspaper article shaming someone for wanting to mourn in peace. “Please respect our privacy during this difficult time” and what have you are not uncommon statements from people in the public eye.

            1. nonymous

              In addition to the request for privacy, it’s also possible to redirect people to a suitable option for mourning. For example since OP’s mom was prominent, KfF’s suggestion can be followed up with “In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to XYZ charity.”

              And if she was especially well-known, a public gathering to celebrate her life and accomplishments after some months have passed may be an option. Not a family-style one, but the kind you see at major conferences or fundraisers. Even then OP will have people approach her, but at least it gives her a script to redirect and distance herself “You know Fergus is coordinating the memorial gala at Charity, can I give you their contact info?” Lay it on thick for the persistent “It would mean so much for Mom’s legacy to accomplish blah blah blah”. Trust me, the ‘thoughts and prayers’ (or just plain nosy) crowd will vanish. (I say this as someone who had a parent active on the volunteer circuit who passed in my early 20s).

              1. Karen from Finance

                If this works for OP, depending on who her mom was and how much energy she has to set up an event like this… this might actually be kind of genius.

                1. nonymous

                  When I see this work, the person in OP’s situation doesn’t have to do very much. The charity is benefiting from from the fame of the deceased, and they handle the logistics. I went to a memorial talk at an ASA conference where Big Names in the field shared anecdotes and delved into the details of their collaborative research experience with the deceased; not sure if anyone in the family actually knew about the event. A local senior center had a memorial speech/slideshow in tribute to a dedicated volunteer as part of their annual fundraiser gala – they gave a representative of the family a plaque in thanks but the family didn’t do much else. Although in the latter case there might have been a bequest involved.

      3. qvaken

        valentine, My partner’s initial thought was very similar to yours – to put a note outside the door basically stating what OP5 wants (to focus on work) and thanking them for respecting her wishes. But with well-thought-out wording, of course.

      4. Hey Karma, Over Here

        Exhausting. That’s it. And it’s been a year. OP, I feel for you. The “surrogate mom” loon, well, that’s a special kind of awkward. “I see your mother died, I can take her place.” Honestly. People do not think. So no advice, just a “hang in there.”

        1. valentine

          “I see your mother died, I can take her place.”
          “I’d be delighted if you would join her.”

        2. wittyrepartee

          “It’s okay, my mom gave me the birds and the bees talk before her untimely death.”

        3. Artemesia

          An aunt or grandmother who makes this offer might be kind but an acquaintance or work colleague — just leaden. Sorry you are having to endure this.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood

      I TC’d odd hours from the next state away for a couple of weeks when my mother was in the hospital expected to stabilize. So although *she* wasn’t prominent, her illness and its effect on my life was.
      When I came back after her death, I quickly learned I had to say “Thanks for that. I still get too emotional, so focusing on the new teapot line is good for me. What do you think of the redesigned handles?”
      VERY few people pushed me past an admission I might get emotional at work….and none did it after I teared up and excused myself from my own office.

    3. OP5

      OP5 here. You make a great point about seeing everyone once. She died about five months ago, so I’m very heartened to hear that there is an end in sight and this won’t drag on forever!

    4. Swales

      I went through very much the same thing after my widely beloved mother died suddenly when I was 25. Whenever I’d run into somebody who’d known her, they’d feel the need to tell me how much they missed her and comfort me. Not that I didn’t also miss her, but when you’re at the grocery store or at work, it’s jarring! Every time I thought I’d checked off everyone on the list of potential consolers, somebody new and unexpected would pop up. I had my first ever high blood pressure reading when the dentist at my 6-month cleaning told me, while strapping on the cuff, how much I looked like my dear departed mother and how much everybody at the dentist’s office missed her. It gets exhausting.

      The good news is that it DOES eventually get better. The surprise mourners came with less frequency over time, and eventually, I got to a place where my heart rate didn’t shoot up every time it happened. It’s been about five years now since we lost her. A couple weeks ago, I had to hire a handyman for some housework, and I called a guy who’d done a lot of work for my mom’s business in the past. We had a long conversation and reminisced about my mom, sharing old work stories and stuff, and for once, it actually felt good to talk about her instead of painful. I never thought I’d get to that place emotionally and it was shocking that somehow, without realizing it, I had.

      In the meantime, all these scripts work well– most people will respect your desire to focus on work once you state it– I just wanted to add to the folks chiming in that this awful season doesn’t last forever.

  3. Drew

    OP5, our culture is so weird about death, and now you’re seeing it first-hand. What I suspect is happening is that many of these people are reminded of your mother’s passing by seeing you and feel like they need to say or do something without really thinking through what that might be – and definitely not thinking through that, for you, it’s not something that just came back to mind but an ongoing source of heartache.

    Alison’s suggested redirects are good ones. I’d add as other possibilities, “It’s nice to be at work where I can take my mind off it for a while, but you’re so kind to think of me” (putting the work front and center but still being polite) or, for people who aren’t taking the hint, “I know you mean well, but I’m so wrapped up with dealing with the estate when I’m not at work that it’s a relief to have something else to focus on at the office.”

    Beyond that, look into the “ring theory” of support and comfort. The idea is that there are rings of closeness to a loss – immediate family, close friends, not-so-close friends and family, acquaintance, strangers – and that support should flow inward, needs outward. If someone less close to your mother (i.e., almost everyone) is offering comfort with strings attached, or is outright stating something they need you to do for them, they aren’t paying enough attention to which ring they’re in and you could keep that in mind. Hat tip to Captain Awkward for talking about this on her blog fairly often, although I don’t think it originated with her.

    1. FabTag

      These are excellent scripts! I love the ring theory, and wonder if some of these people think they are actually being supportive with their comments. These scripts will help them see that the way to be supportive is not to continue talking about it.

    2. Triplestep

      +1 on the scripts. I also suggest throwing in the concept that we all have different ways of coping, and yours is not to discuss at work. That’s hard to push back on, even for those who think they know what it’s like to be in your shoes.

      You might also suggest that they send a note with their remembrances and that way you can take them home and read about them when you’re not at work. There was a time when that’s the way the majority of condolences from acquaintances were handled, but as a culture we’ve gotten kind of lazy about condolence notes.

      I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. It sounds really hard and while I don’t remember ever having “forced” a grieving family member to reminisce about a loved one outside an appropriate setting, I would certainly think twice about it after reading your letter. I think you’ve provided a valuable service by bringing this to light.

      1. Michaela Westen

        I think it’s very common for people who’ve had a loss to want to focus on their work. I’ve seen and heard of it many times.
        I’m glad I try to follow a person’s lead about such things… there’s always a question, “do they want to talk about it and think I don’t, or do they not want to?”. I wait for it to be brought up, but worry I’m not being supportive by not giving them an opening.

      2. OP5

        “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. It sounds really hard and while I don’t remember ever having ‘forced’ a grieving family member to reminisce about a loved one outside an appropriate setting, I would certainly think twice about it after reading your letter. I think you’ve provided a valuable service by bringing this to light.”

        This means so, so much to me! As frustrated and demoralized as I’ve felt by people’s pushiness, I also realize that no one actually wants to cause me distress. If my letter can get just one person to consider the impact of their words in these situations, that’s a victory in itself. Thank you.

    3. No Name Yet

      I like these scripts as well. I would flip the order of the first one, “you’re kind, but work now please,” since the ‘but’ will semi-negate the first half of the sentence and you don’t want to negate the “we’re here to work” part. Or link them with ‘and’, which doesn’t negate quite the same way.

      And Ring Theory was actually created by Dr. Susan Silk, a clinical psychologist who had breast cancer and was shocked by how much emotional work people expected her to do for them when she was undergoing treatment and worried about her health.

      1. wittyrepartee

        I kept the ring theory in mind recently when a friend was moving away from my city for her husband’s job. We were both sad, but it wasn’t really the time for me to tell her all about how sad I was. It wasn’t about me.

        1. Mama's mama

          I would love some advice regarding the ring theory. My mother’s health has recently worsened and my sibling and I have needed to upend our lives to help both parents. My question is what’s the ring rule for people on the same circle as you? My sibling seems to want sympathy and comforting for their sacrifices–never acknowledging mine. It’s increasingly difficult to have to listen to *their* woes.

          1. Anonym

            Would it be helpful to frame what *you* need to cope and share that with your sibling? Maybe something like, “I know sharing your pain and worries is really helpful to you. I’m finding that when we have these types of talks it actually makes it harder for me to cope with everything we’re dealing with, so I may have to opt out sometimes. I know you understand.”

            1. Anonym

              The last sentence might be a bit much, but with some people creating that bit of alliance nudges them to view helping you out as them being A Good Person, which we all like to feel like.

            2. Michaela Westen

              Since your sibling needs to talk and you aren’t up for listening, maybe send them to a therapist to talk, and the therapist can help them process their feelings.

          2. nonymous

            You have my sympathies. I found that it was very helpful to create alliances with people who were not emotionally entangled (e.g. nursing staff, neighbors/friends who share your perspective) and ask them to buffer the conversations. If your sister has a friend/spouse/in-laws that can be supportive in a drama-free way, try to designate that individual as the comforting ear. It sounds like your sister is having trouble finding her own outer rings – if she is not very social, maybe look to your Mom’s friends and see if they or their kids could offer that kindness.

            In my experience, I have not found people to do an about-face and start thanking others if their personalities aren’t naturally inclined to. But the act of listening/consoling your sister is best delegated to someone else since you don’t have the bandwidth.

            From the perspective of ring theory, while one way to look at this is with Mom at the center (meaning that you & sis dump out while providing supportive care – but I haven’t seen any rules of thumb along the same circle), it is likely that your sister is seeing the scenario with herself at the center separate from what your mom is dealing with (think of overlapping circles, like a Venn Diagram).

    4. sheworkshardforthemoney

      The ring theory sounds like it would have been helpful to me. When my husband passed away I had to comfort people who barely knew him and it was draining. Now it all makes sense.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder

        I’m sorry you went through that. When I was 15, my best friend’s father died and she faced the same thing. I’m embarrassed to say that my initial reaction was to cry *at* her, but I quickly read the situation and how exhausted she was and a few of our mutual friends and I acted as protectors and gatekeepers for people who wanted to make it all about them.

        1. anonymous 5

          Major good on you for doing that…the ring theory helps only when people respect that they *aren’t* in the center, and unfortunately a lot of people truly don’t grasp that. So those who are willing and able to help run interference can be a huge lifeline!

    5. Karen from Finance

      I agree that this is probably what is happening through these people’s heads. Since my friend passed, I can’t see members of her family without being reminded of her, and it’s been years. It kind of just happens. But they shouldn’t be saying this to OP, it’s an unfair burden, even if I understand where they are coming from… They should really think about OP as a complete person of her own. With this in mind I like your scripts.

    6. LCL

      …I’ve read more than one post on this blog regarding someone losing a relative, coworkers are at a loss as to what to say so say nothing, OP is really sad they aren’t getting any words of comfort.

  4. Mesa

    LW4, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of office relationships are transactional. It’s always confusing to me when people say, “it’s so sad that we never see Fergus anymore now that he’s moved onto his new job.” Well yes, because our relationship with Fergus was situational – he has new friends at his new job. There are certainly co-workers that I’ve remained friends with after we no longer worked together, but for the overwhelming majority of my ex-coworkers, the extent of our relationship is that maybe I’ll see a post they make on Facebook every so often.

    1. Tarra

      Even with people you’re genuinely still friends with, a month is very soon – try to remember how exhausting it is to start a new job!

      1. Emily K

        Yes, I have old, dear friends who I barely saw for a couple of months when they switched jobs. When someone goes from a job they’ve been at for several years, where they’ve mastered the work enough to easily manage their workload, and where they’ve built up a solid reputation enough to be granted some flexibility and autonomy, to a new job where they’re now heavily invested in learning and also in proving themselves to people who don’t yet know them, it can be like they fell off the map for a while.

      2. Psyche

        It is especially too soon for multiple lunch invitations. The responses may be curt because the OP is being too persistent.

    2. this way, that way

      If you have to ask if you can contact the person after they leave then your not close, your co-workers. Being Facebook friends does not qualify anyone as a real friend they are people that you know, its just nicer to say friends. I’m 37 and most of my high school class are Facebook friends, I haven’t seen the majority of them in 20 years we are not friends.

    3. Falling Diphthong

      I was struck by “we’re even Facebook friends.” I don’t think most people use FB as a highly curated link to only their close friends and family–and it can be awkward, if you can’t believably wave the “only intimate family, sorry” flag, to tell your subordinate/boss/coworker “nope, I’m rejecting your friend request.” Rather than accept and put them on the most heavily screened level.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder

        LW4 sounds on the young side, as evidenced by the fact that they think of a year as a long time to work together and the fact that they asked “permission” to visit the manager at her new job (which isn’t really something that people do in my world of work). It’s possible that this is their first time dealing with a work relationship ending, or at least one that they care about. I’m a very relationship-oriented person and it took me a while to learn the norms around moving on from work relationships. Hopefully the feedback here will help them gain some understanding of this and not take it personally.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      100% agree. I have been good friends with a several of my co-workers, but the reality of the situation is that once you’re no longer working together, that friendship is likely to end or fade over time. And that’s okay. I’ve also noticed than some people are bad at keeping in touch. I figured out a long time ago that if I’m the only one putting in the effort to maintain a relationship, it’s just not worth my time. Not saying I would shun someone after a few years if I saw them or they contacted me, but I’m eventually going to stop putting in the effort to get together.

    5. The Original K.

      Co-sign. I’ve made friends through work but overall once someone moves on from the job, the relationship is over. Not in a bad way, just in a “life changed” sort of way. It’s very common.

  5. Engineer Girl

    #1 seems like dangerous territory. The numerology and astrology could violate some peoples belief systems. That alone makes it a poor candidate for group activities.

    1. Anon Today

      Yes, it would be an absolute “not happening” for me, for a few reasons. In OP1’s place, I would (if asked to participate) thank them for inviting me but decline due to religious reasons.

        1. Ermintrude

          Not quite on-topic, but my favourite version of this is when people were given a supposedly personal life-horoscope that was from a criminal/serial killer. I read about it in a book but it’s probably Google-able.

      1. kittymommy

        Ditto. While I am fairly religious, most of my workmates would not know this as I do not bring it into my work life. This however would be a big issue for me if I was forced (directly or otherwise) to participate.

    2. Richard Williams

      and just which calendar do they use to calculate this number? I can think of at least 7 or 8, yet am sure there are more.
      “I’m a Julian 5 but a Gregorian 7, in Aztec I’m a 3, Hindu a 4 and Jewish also a 5. I haven’t checked out Mayan or Chinese yet, but I suppose I’ve invalidated the whole idea pointing out the inherent irrelativity in any counting system that has no commonly accepted base”

      1. Falling Diphthong

        I have this hideous foreboding that the existence of multiple calendars giving different answers would be a feature, not a bug.

        1. LQ

          You are, unfortunately, correct. If you don’t get the answers you want from one it’s an exciting opportunity to explore other calendars and see what number you really are from another calendar.

    3. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff

      I am more worried about work assignments being distributed according to the numbers, instead of according to abilities and previous accomplishments. But this may be more difficult to demonstrate.
      The conflict with religion is safer from the law-point-of-view, but I really hope OP1 will not need to get the law involved!

      1. Jennifer Juniper

        It may also cause the OP to get ostracized, because people may gossip as to what OP’s religion is. I would just play along with the silliness for now. However, if numerology is used as justification for unfair treatment, time to get HR/legal involved.

        1. Lili

          I’m personally a pretty standard Presbyterian and I would refuse to participate on religious grounds, so there’s not much there for gossip fodder in my opinion. That said, if someone was a practitioner of a a non-mainstream religion then as you say it could cause issues.

        2. Parenthetically

          I doubt there’ll be a lot of speculation since pretty much every standard Christian denomination is not going to be chill about numerology, and many of them are going to be REALLY NOT OKAY AT ALL with it. But I don’t think OP needs to bring up religion, even if she is religious — saying, “Guys, numerology is really not my thing at all, and I won’t be participating in group activities related to it.” I think if she’s pressed, she can go to HR and explain that it’s incompatible with her beliefs to participate in numerology. She should definitely NOT “play along,” though.

      2. Lance

        That makes me a little curious if a manager/superior is involved at all; OP says ‘coworkers’, so my first thought is ‘just peers’, but I’m not fully certain. If a manager of any sort is involved, I think it would be even more worth pushing back on for this possibility alone (and I’d swear there was a letter where a boss got into ‘personality types’ of some kind and started redirecting work in just such a way).

    4. SherBert

      Thanks for stating it this way. I was trying to come up with a good way to say it. You nailed it.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      Yes, I would equate it to a religion – different people have different beliefs and it all needs to stay out of a work situation.

    6. sally

      I had a situation like this once where a coworker wanted me to get my astrology chart done (though not team wide). As a person fairly on the hippie scale, I just said, “I’m not into that. You’d think I would be, but I’m not.” She was fine with my answer and there were no hard feelings.

    7. SKA

      Yep, I’d probably decline “for religious reasons” (without specifying that that reason is that I don’t observe any religions).

      1. Ice and Indigo

        Is there any reason not to just say, ‘I don’t believe in numerology, so I don’t feel comfortable with any of this’? I mean, it’s true, it’s defensible, and it’s to the point.

        1. MayLou

          I can see this response potentially resulting in lots of attempts to convince OP that numerology is real and s/he should join in and be converted by its wonderful power. “It conflicts with my existing beliefs” (which include a belief in the nonsensical nature of numerology, but you don’t need to say that) is more likely to be respected by someone than what they might see as an opportunity for debate and convincing.

    8. MimiMarie

      I agree, and there are probably hundreds of books, classes, workshops, etc. that a team could use that have much more legitimate ways of pursing the goal of helping a team understand and explore communication styles with each other.

  6. Marlene

    #3 I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks butts on desks are gross. I see it a lot in my workplace (a school) with grown adults sitting on cafeteria tables and even sitting cross-legged on student desks. Where’s the self awareness?

    1. alienor

      I’m pretty squeamish about a lot of things, but it’s never occurred to me to be grossed out by someone sitting on a desk–they’ve got on pants and (presumably) underwear, so there are multiple layers between the butt and the surface. That said, I don’t like when people come to my desk and borrow one of my pens with their probably-germy hands, so everyone’s got their squicks!

      1. Dontsitwhereyoueat

        In some cultures, such as our Maori culture in New Zealand, its incredibly rude to sit on a table or desk. Everyone would be horrified.

        1. Jess

          I was popping in to say the same thing – that it’s tapu to sit on tables/eating surfaces in Maori culture – so it’s not like its an uncommon thing to care about.

          1. BeeJiddy

            Yeah, I don’t always observe tikanga in my own house but out in public or at another person’s house, I absolutely do. I also think working hospo jobs when I was younger really cemented the concept of never sitting on food prep or eating surfaces in my mind. Even outside of NZ cultural context, I think it’s a reasonable thing to ask someone to not lean or sit on a table. Also can’t imagine it’s very good for the desk, structurally speaking.

            1. valentine

              Sitting on a school desk is infinitely more comfortable and cool than sitting on the chair, especially if it’s a chair attached to a half-desk. (I have nightmares about those.)

              1. Jennifer Juniper

                If the school is a nursery or elementary school, maybe the chairs in the school are too small for adults to sit in. In that case, however, I’d sit on the floor rather than on a desk.

                1. blackcat

                  I spent all of the 5th grade shoving my adult sized body into kid-sized furniture. And sitting on the floor was “for little kids” so it wasn’t allowed. But somehow sitting on tables didn’t get the same punishment, so it became a habit for me that has stuck ever since.

                  I was a tall 5th grader, but not *that* tall. 5’3″, 100lbs (I am bit heavier now, in my 30s, but the same height. That growth spurt between 4th and 5th grade was my last.).

                2. Jadelyn

                  Which is all well and good if you can get back up off the floor, but given the option, I’ll sit on the desk every time since sitting on the floor would wreck my knees and/or back when I tried to get back up.

                3. Cercis

                  You’re lucky to have good knees. Most regular chairs are very hard to get out of, and don’t even ask me about “regular” toilets. And I only have moderately bad knees (as in, I don’t need physical therapy or surgery), but I have them coupled with long legs. Most regular seats have my knees about an inch higher than my hips, if I’m wearing heels, I am not getting out of that chair without help. And forget getting on or off the floor.

                  I’ve really started appreciating the higher chairs and tables in restaurants and homes. I’m not replacing my antique dining set, yet, but I’m definitely tempted whenever I have to get my kid to help me up.

              2. Janie

                If the desk doesn’t move, plenty of fat bodies aren’t going to fit in that space, too. I had one class in high school where the desk was so tight I nearly ended up with bruises.

                1. Jennifer Juniper

                  Thank you for reminding me that I am coming from a position of privilege, since I do have the ability to sit on the floor and get up again unaided.

            2. Airy

              Wasn’t there a letter a little while ago from someone who just leant their hip against a desk and the top broke and slammed down on the legs of the person sitting at the desk and hurt them quite badly? All the more reason not to do it.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood

                When I was a teen, one of my summer camps had to replace a counselor in the middle of the summer after someone had a folding table fold under her. Bones were involved.
                Although come to think of it, I have a vague memory she actualy was _standing_ on the table to change a light bulb. And now *MY* squick factor has been invoked. I wonder why butts don’t bother me but feet do. At least those tables were sanitized before every meal.

                1. Anonny

                  People don’t put their butts where they put their feet. I have never seen anyone drag their butt through, say, mud, dirty water, pile of dog poop…

                2. Busy

                  When I was in Poland, it was apparently very common in the region I was in for people to climb on top of toilets, squat, and do their business. Until the day I walked into a gas station bathroom covered in boot prints, I never realized how squicked out I am about feet and shoes. It is sooooo much better to put your butt on here haha. It is at least, theoretically, covered all day.

                3. teclatrans

                  I suspect uncovered, unwiped butts might have more of a squick factor? Or even uncovered butts that have been wiped. But, covered butts? Unless someone has a major accident and walks around like that, clothed butts are no more unsanitary than shoulders. (Hm, maybe butts that sit on public transportation seats have the potential to carry germs…I mostly drive or end up standing on transport, so that hadn’t occurred to me…)

                4. Michaela Westen

                  “had a folding table fold under her”
                  This is why people need to think and be aware of what they’re climbing on. And sitting on…

              2. Iris Eyes

                I was thinking of the same thing. A leg was broken if I recall. The comment section had more than a few similar stories.

                OP could site the terrifying mental pictures while insisting on no desk sitting.

          2. RUKiddingMe

            It’s a major “nooooo” in RUK culture too. Seriously I’d be thinking about actually hurting someone that put their butt on my desk, table, etc.

            I’m pretty squicked out at the front part of shopping carts too. You know where people plant their kids who may/may not be in diapers/potty trained… I’m not even putting my food in there.

            I had a plumber come out yesterdsy because my kitchen plumbing hates me and it was Sunday and I dont need all that money anyway…

            He had his tooks all over my counters, sink, floor, etc., so after he left I had to BLEACH STUFF(!!!) so sitting where I *might* eat my food? All the nope.

            1. Ginger ale for all

              I never even thought about the grocery carts. I am going to change how I shop now. Thank you for mentioning it, I get sick easily and hopefully this will help me stay healthier.

              1. RUKiddingMe

                Youre very welcome. Pretty much everyone I tell that to has never thought about it either so you’re in good company.

                1. D'Arcy

                  Welp add me to the “Thanks, I never thought about that before, but now that you mention, that’s staying folded and not…ugh!”

              2. Jennifer Juniper

                You can buy a personal shopping cart. That will cut down on germ exposure. They’re also much easier to maneuver than those big clunky ones at the store.

                1. Jaid

                  There’s also grocery cart bags so items don’t actually touch the cart. And covers for where a baby sits.

                2. Courageous cat

                  I mean… really though? Do you think that’s really good for your immune system to cut down on contact with other humans as much as possible? This just seems a bit excessive/bordering on phobic.

                3. Jennifer Juniper

                  I was thinking about people who are immune-compromised. I am extremely healthy and not phobic about germs.

              3. Clisby

                I’ve been in several grocery stores where the cart area has a dispenser for sanitizing wipes, so people can wipe down the cart before using.

                1. Ego Chamber

                  They have them at every chain grocery store I’ve been in for at least the past 5 years. I was never very precious about germs touching my hands because I generally remember not to randomly shove my own hands into my mouth but one day I watched an infant in the cart in line ahead of me alternately eating fistfuls of peanut butter and teething on the grocery cart. That’s what converted me into wiping down the carts.

              4. valentine

                People let their kids (and probably dogs) sit or stand in the larger part of the cart as well, and they touch it with their hazmat hands. Isn’t all your food packaged and aren’t you going to wash or cook the more flimsily covered stuff?

                1. RUKiddingMe

                  Sure, all of that but still I cant handle the idea of my food in the front oart. Since the only one affected is me … ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

              5. Artemesia

                That’s why they have those sanitizing cloths near the carts most places, I always wipe the handle and the seat if I am going to use the seat to hold anything.

              6. Michaela Westen

                The easiest thing to do is wipe all your food off after you bring it home. I used to get upset about people putting food on the shelf where the food baskets (which have been dragged along the floor!) go at the register, until a store manager mentioned he and his partner just wipe everything off when they bring it in.
                Because you don’t know what happened before you saw it. It could have been dropped on the floor, or the ground when it was being loaded or unloaded, or handled by someone who has a cold…
                I make my own non-toxic disinfectant with alcohol and vinegar and I just spray some on a dishcloth and wipe everything off. I put veggies in bags when I buy them, and wipe the bag off when I get home.
                Here is the recipe:
                for a ~12-ounce spray bottle
                1/4 cup isopropyl alcohol (70% or 90% work, I’ve been using 70%)
                1/2 cup white vinegar
                Fill the rest of the bottle with water filtered by the Brita pitcher.
                Please be sure not to use the heavy disinfectants to wipe food, that’s not safe.

                1. RUKiddingMe

                  Thanks for this. I do wash/sanitize stuff when I get home in addition to all my other “keep as many germs away from me as possible” stuff. It takes a lot of my time. I probably have a problem but I don’t care.

            2. xms967

              I need a phrase that means both “genuine thank you for bringing this to my attention!” and “THANKS I NEEDED TO THINK OF THIS HORROR”. D:

              1. RUKiddingMe

                Oh no you are not at all ignorant. I was just being …ironic… (I guess?…too early to think of words…)

                It’s my personal culture. It means only my own personal weirdness.

                1. differentPeopleAreDifferent

                  And here I went Web searching and decided you meant “Rest of the UK”. Even though it didn’t really fit.

                2. RUKiddingMe

                  @ differentPeopleAreDifferent

                  Haha…sorry. “Witty” that’s the word I couldn’t think of earlier! I was trying to be witty. #Fail ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            3. Basia, also a fed

              Where is RUK? I Googled it and looks like there are two places – Micronesia or Iran.

          3. JSPA

            Are the historic clothing conventions such that “skin exposed to toilet procedures” could end up in contact with food surfaces? Many cultures have taboos that parallel good food handing practices, given the sum of other cultural practices. I feel like I’ve seen a gamut from long – and – voluminous to very, ah, brief?

            1. RUKiddingMe

              I know in Husband’s culture (and TBH I don’t know if it’s Arabic, Muslim, or Moroccan culture…never asked) but they clean only with their left hand because they eat with their right hand…unless like Husband they are left handed in which case…reverse.

              I’m pretty sure this predates the use of forks and spoons, but even today there’s a lot of food that’s eaten by bare hands. I am so, so, so grateful that my MIL is a germaphobe on par with me when cleaning and when cooking/serving food as well as making certain everyone, even her 70-something year old husband washes hands before touching food. To the point that she will stand over her adult children and watch them wash. That even beats my “let me smell your hands for soap” thing.

        2. Not American

          And if this was the case then OP wouldn’t feel any weirdness about asking people not to do it.

      2. Japananon

        I work in Japan and it’s been really eye-opening to adapt to a totally different idea of Psychological Grossness.
        the US: don’t take your shoes off at someone’s house and expose your stinky feet, also the shoes are part of the outfit
        Japan: how dare you walk in someone’s house with shoes contaminated from the outside!

        Even if you were to stand on a chair here, you should remove your shoes first. I have never seen anyone put their feet or butts on a desk and it would be really Psychologically Gross to put Dirty Things (like shoes and butts) on Clean Things (like tables where your hands and lunch go).

        There are Reasons for these lines in every culture but ultimately it comes down to what behaviors indicate respect–to the office, to the furniture, to the people who use it. In my experience in the US it’s not exactly “professional” to sit on desks, especially someone else’s, so I don’t see anything wrong with pushing back there.

        1. Autumnheart

          It’s not a US norm to leave shoes on in the house. Taking shoes off is, though not universal, certainly very widespread. Particularly in regions where mud, snow and dust are commonly tracked in during specific times of the year.

          1. Aveline

            Many American sub-cultures and regional areas consider both wearing shoes inside and buts on non-seats bad.

            To me, the latter is like putting feet on a table. I might do it in my own home, but never in pubic or at someone else’s home. I grew up on a farm and buts on tables or desks was a no-no. No one I knew did it. I never saw anyone do it till I went to college and met with a college professor who lean-sat on his desk. I thought it super-gross. Still do.

        2. wittyrepartee

          Especially in small living spaces. I took off my shoes inside according to house rules in my suburban hometown and was an anomaly. Now that I’ve moved to NYC where apartments are small and the population is more likely to come from a shoes off culture- shoes off is a good assumption.

      3. Not Australian

        Well, you also need to consider where else their bums have been perched – like on walls, kerbstones, the bonnets of cars etc. Not all surfaces are as clean as your desk.

        1. Natalie

          Wouldn’t the same logic apply to hands and arms though? I can pretty much guarantee you that your hands are dirtier than any part of your body you don’t use for 90% of your interaction with the world.

          1. Aveline

            Are you talking dirt or germs? Because hands are generally not “dirtier” but are generally “germier” than most other parts of the body.

            The cultural practice of shaking hands is a huge conveyor of germs. I once knew an epidemiologist who said that hugging is safer than shaking hands for most types of nasties that transfer from person to person and that it was 100% true that the best thing to do during cold and flu season was to skip hand shaking as a greeting.

          2. pleaset

            No way. Hands are not dirtier than the bottom of shoes that have been used walking outside.

            There is not sand and dust and mud falling off our hands like it does with the bottoms of shoes.

            1. fposte

              For most people, “dirty” in this conversation means illness-causing microoganisms, not sand; they’re less worried about what you can see than what you can’t. (Though shoes are likely also dirtier there as well, given the multispecies fecal microorganisms on the ground compared to human-focused microorganisms on hands.)

              1. Aveline

                IDK, I consider “dirty” and “germy” two different things. I can see dirt, I can’t see germs.

                I understand your point, but I dont’ think it’s universal to conflate those things.

                1. fposte

                  Well, no use is universal, but that use is very, very common–see any article about how dirty is your kitchen sponge and how dirty is your toilet. They’re not talking about smears.

              2. pleaset

                “For most people, “dirty” in this conversation means illness-causing microoganisms, not sand; ”

                No. The conversation started with footwear inside, and that’s all about sand, mud, earth etc that comes in with shoes. Dirt. Not germs. Dirt – the stuff outside and on the bottom of shoes.

                “How dirty is the floor?” “Well, I just vacuumed it, so it’s clean.”
                “Clean the floor, it’s dirty.”
                “Don’t walk on my clean floor with your muddy shoes – just mopped it. ”

                These type of statements are not about germs, at least in normal conversation.

            2. JSPA

              Bacteriologically the biggest risk to people is… other people. Assuming we’re talking about a part of the world where we don’t have problems with open sewage / public defecation, that means the fewest number of “direct contact” steps (and the shortest time) from somebody else’s nose / mouth / feces / etc to our own mucous membranes. Except to some degree for sneezes there’s very little role for “linear distance.”

              Your clothed butt cheek– and probably your shoes–should have significantly fewer human pathogens then the hand that your coworker used to hold his toddler’s hand at the daycare drop-off.

              If you’re wearing boots from a cow pasture where they have an E coli or salmonella problem, or if you live in a city without pooper scooper laws, this isn’t a magic guarantee.

              But most of our social rules and aversions date back to the time before any sort of public sewers (let alone closed sewers and water treatment). Back when people flung the contents of chamber pots out of their windows in the morning and people made their way to work through human excrement, tracked about and splashed around by passing carriages, city pigs rooting for anything of remaining food value, loose chickens and free range children, shoes (or over shoes, anyway) were super dangerous. Now, not so much.

          3. Dust Bunny

            The same could apply to handbags. When was the last time you cleaned your purse, and where-all has it been? Right. So while I sort of get the LW objecting to butts, I’m curious to know if her purse is actually cleaner than someone else’s pants, which are presumably laundered.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch

              Same.

              I never put handbags on the table for that reason. It’s like propping your feet up there.

            2. Gymmie

              I always think about belts. Like you touch your belt after using the toilet, and then you go wash your hands…but you never wash your belt! Luckily, I’m not a germaphobe so it was just a passing thought, but….

      4. Aveline

        As someone who grew up on a farm outside a small town, if you had been outside working, you wouldn’t leave your shoes on or sit, irrespective of the house rules.

        Now, I find both cities and rural life equally gross in terms of “where those backsides have been.”

        I think it’s probably a narrow slice of how humans all over earth live to have a backside that hasn’t been somewhere you don’t want on your desk. No contact with a communal seat (e.g., subway) and no contact with the dirty and grime of the earth (e.g., farm), pretty much leaves a narrow slice of modern suburban live.

      5. Not American

        Also, I’m assuming OP isn’t eating her food straight off the desk? Or putting food on her desk without a plate or something? Not sure what the problem is. Is she worried about people leaving residual bum germs on her desk that would penetrate her container/plate/whatever?

        1. Little Did She Know

          OP reply- and also replied to a thread above. I agree there’s some contradiction going on because hands are probably germier than bottoms. Feelings aren’t always logical. I do shake hands, etc.

          A few details for this situation-

          I am currently eating directly next to this area because I know it’s untouched, and I clean it regularly. I’d like to spread out a bit, if people would stop sitting there.

          The toilets in our building send a powerful spray/mist upwards when flushed, and there has been discussion about the spray. Gross.

          I will say something the next time someone sits on my desk. I think it’s sturdy enough since there’s a file cabinet directly beneath. It’s time to speak up.

          1. Little Did She Know

            I mentioned the toilets because I think we’re probably walking around with a spray of toilet water on our backsides due to these high powered toilets (that still can’t seem to flush a square or tp). This is what pops into my mind when someone is perched on my desk.

        2. MJ

          Would it be acceptable for people to put their butts on commercial kitchen counters, which would then not be cleaned before use? After all, the cooks will use chopping boards, pots and pans never touch the counter, dishes etc. If it’s okay to do it where people might be eating, it must be okay to do it where food is prepared, right? What’s the difference?

  7. Sami

    Astrology and now numerology? Yikes!
    I’d be side-eyeing the professionalism of people who try to use these in a work environment. There’s no reason for it.
    Stick to your convictions, OP.

    1. I Took A Mint

      Agreed. Same as for the previous letter on astrology. If you already get along great and your teammates know you, there’s no greater “insight” to be had by learning your magic number. In fact it would be pretty disrespectful to treat you like a number, even a divine number, instead of a full human whom they already know and work with well. Definitely use the part of Alison’s script that says you don’t want your coworkers to tailor their interactions with you based on this.

        1. Lady Jay

          This!! This is also what’s always bugged me about the Enneagram—that people treat the number as their whole identity: “that’s such a 4 thing to do,” or “we 2s probably feel like this in stressful situations.”

          No. Reducing things to these cute number games means glossing over a lot of complex, important thinking about “doing human.” Use. Your. Brain.

          1. JSPA

            “I’d so much prefer for us to continue getting know each other as people, including the random little quirks that make us human, instead of seeing each other in the context of a number.”

            “summarizing people with a number takes the beauty out of life for me, like rating every partnership by the size of the engagement ring.”

            “numerology is something based on and borrowed from various faith traditions, and I’m not comfortable having them play a meaningful role at work.”

      1. Myrin

        ” If you already get along great and your teammates know you, there’s no greater “insight” to be had by learning your magic number.”

        That’s what really got me about this letter. I don’t think this stuff is workplace-appropriate in any case but I could at least understand the rationale if the team were distant, people regularly talked past each other, etc. (As in, someone desperately going “My team does not get along at all! I’ve tried so much to change it! What else can we do? Oh, I know, we haven’t tried this numerology thing yet!”; still totally missing the mark of root cause analysis but at least there’d be an understandable initial point.)

        As it stands, though, OP and her coworkers “get along great, and are fairly close”. So… great? Why add a weird layer of numbers to this, then? If you’re pretty close already, I don’t see why you need to find yet another way to “work better together” and can only find out “the best ways to approach each other” via their numbersona instead of, you know, just dealing with these people you know pretty well already.

    2. MissDisplaced

      I mean, if they really wanted a better understanding of how to interact with each other as a team, something like Myers-Briggs or Caliper would do that better. But take even that with a grain of salt because I’ve done them all, and the Myers-Briggs closely matches my horoscope personality. Go figure!

      1. Tricksie

        I’m actually Myers-Briggs certified and the more I learned about it, the more I realized it is pretty much absolute hooey.

        1. fposte

          Yes, basically this is just trading one group of believers for another. Maybe just let the systems go.

        2. stump

          I mean, I think it’s fun to do the Meyer-Briggs tests and all, but I also think it’s on the same level as those old Quizilla “WHICH [ANIME] CHARACTER ARE YOU????” tests. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          1. Kately

            Honestly, I would prefer this to the MBTI. Joking about how much of a Riza Hawkeye I am would be really fun, as long as it wasn’t carried too far. I think that’s the problem in most of the cases – a silly thing is just given too much meaning, in an attempt to find order.

          2. JSPA

            Minus stealing your metadata invisibly (in that MB take your data from you visibly, in person, and you or someone gets to pay, up front).

            Basically all of these things work (insofar as they work at all) by encouraging people to think about their patterns and by giving them a set of terms to discuss those observations in a dispassionate way.

            It can be helpful to say “Katie and you have conflict because she’s a 2 and you’re a 9, so these strategies might work” if the prior go-to would have been, “…because Katie was raised wrong and you’re OCD and I can’t even.”

            All the analysis is basically a front for reducing confrontation and introducing conflict reduction and conflict resolution skills.

        3. Windchime

          That’s how I’ve always felt about it. “Would you rather go to a party or stay home and read a book?” I don’t know; who will be at the party? Where is the party, and will there be food and/or drink? How long will the party last? Will it be noisy or quiet? Am I tired that day or up for some social interaction? What book am I currently reading, and is it a page-turner or boring?

          I hate being categorized according to how I answer random questions, because I am sure to answer them differently tomorrow.

          1. PlainJane

            That’s exactly my issue, and I get a different result almost every time I take the MBTI. No validity at all.

    3. stump

      Seriously though, for me, it’s about two and a half steps below the people who try to organize a companywide daily prayer or put religious verses on their invoices or what have you. (It’s two and a half steps below since stuff like astrology and numerology seems to get more….. sanitized? into versions that are more of a fun thing and the people who push for that stuff on other people don’t tend to do it nearly as hard as the less… “fun”/pop culture religious/spiritual flavored stuff. It just doesn’t tend to go nearly into the “HOLY RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION, BATMAN!” territory nearly as often or as intensely as the religious stuff that doesn’t end up as a goofy little prediction in the daily paper.)

      I mean, fine and dandy if that’s somebody’s bag! But like other religious and spiritual beliefs, not really appropriate for you to be pushing on other people in the office. And I get that a lot of people don’t see numerology or astrology as spiritual beliefs, but even if somebody’s into the pop culture version, it’s still a spiritual practice that can bump up against other people’s religious/spiritual practices! So, you know, save it for outside the office!

    4. Arts Akimbo

      I feel like people who are really into numerology and astrology and even Myers-Briggs and the like in the workplace are… looking for a “gotcha” for their coworkers? In my experience it has never taken on the role of “this is how we increase communication,” and instead always goes down the rabbit hole of “Oh, haha, well, you’re an (ENFP/ Aquarius/ 5/ Hufflepuff/ whatever) so we don’t have to take your input seriously on this specific issue.” In a toxic workplace it’s about “how can we be dismissive of stuff we don’t like– oh yay, here’s a convenient label we can use for the purpose.”

  8. Mike C.

    If OP one can’t get out of it, keep switching up the numbers. Use a random number generator to pick between +/- 5 years of your birth year, 1-12 for them month and then 1-28/30/31 for the month picked. Every time it comes up, switch it.

    You can Google these number generators online.

    1. Sassafras

      “Sorry, I don’t follow the Gregorian calendar; I will be treating you according to your Julian calendar birthday!”

      1. Anonariffic

        “I don’t believe in your solar year and artificial distinctions of months, I celebrate my birth on the eve of the super worm equinox full moon.”

        1. Just Employed Here

          “What do you mean ‘my date of birth’? I’ve always existed (and always will, until the end of time…muahahhahaa).”

          1. Kately

            I’ve never thought about it, but I imagine workplace numerology must be a source of anxiety for vampires, along with glass-walled conference rooms. Not to mention catered lunches with garlic bread…

            1. smoke tree

              I would definitely read the vampire edition of Ask a Manager. Dear Alison: My manager keeps asking me to remove my pallet of unholy soil from the copy room to free up storage space. I keep telling him that I need it to recharge my powers over my lunch break but he seems to be getting annoyed. Is this legal?

      2. Jemima Bond

        “Sorry I was born on 25th February so I only have a date of birth one year in four. So until the end of the year just put a blank for me”
        (NB I am not dim it’s a ref to a previous letter)

        1. Richard Williams

          Jemima: in my calendar February 25th only occurs once every 4 or sometimes 6 years until it doesn’t at all and then goes and does it again. so calculate that pals!

    2. Annette

      Seems like a lot of work. All to avoid having one direct conversation. My motto in cases like these = B.I.B. Blunter is Better. Say bluntly “I’m not interested in numerology. Count me out!” Done.

  9. Mels

    LW#5 I feel you. My mum died when I was 16 and it was very emotionally jarring when people bought it up and got awkward fast when they wanted to talk and I didn’t. The best way I found is when someone brings it up to say something like ‘thank you, its been hard but I’m getting through it’ and then very obviously and determindly change the subject. And keep on changing the subject, people usually quickly get the hint.

    1. SittingDuck

      My mom also died when I was 16.

      I remember hating all the ‘condolences’ because it would just remind me of how she was gone.

      I also felt that condolences were more about the person giving them then they were for me. They felt they needed to fulfill some societal norm by telling me they were sorry. It always made me angry, I was semi-able to understand they were ‘trying’ to help, but mostly I just thought about how their words couldn’t bring her back or make it better at all.

      It also became the defining interaction when people were around me – reminiscing, or asking how I was, so instead of letting me attempt to move on with my life and put the pieces back together they just kept it at the center of all of our interactions.

      I never even read all the cards we got in the mail, because I didn’t want other people’s sympathy, I just wanted my mom back.

      So OP #5 I totally get it. I hated how people seemed to ‘re-define’ me by the loss of my mother. Was it a HUGE deal, yes, but the constant reminders through condolences, and memories and such was not helpful to me.

      1. Mr. Tyzik

        I live far away from where I grew up. When my father passed, I flew in for the funeral. So many people who hadn’t seen me in years asked me “How are you?”. I got incensed. I’m at my dad’s funeral after his long illness; how did they think I felt?!?

        Societal norm for them, excruciating pain for me. What was I supposed to do, just say “Fine”?

  10. Diamond

    #3 my boss sits on my desk! I hate it, it puts her well within my personal space bubble for that kind of thing, but also she’s quite tall and solidly built and all I can think of is images of the desk crashing down onto my thighs… really puts me on edge! What’s more, if I have a container of nuts or snacks on the desk she’ll just start eating them. Sometimes she will announce first ‘I’m going to have some of these’.

    1. valentine

      my boss sits on my desk!
      Ew. I don’t suppose you can tell her a story about animals marking their territory each and every time.

      Buttinsky: I’m going to have some of these.
      Diamond: *gently pushes the food to safety* No, thanks.

    2. Jennifer Juniper

      Maybe you should buy a separate jar of nuts with the boss’s name on it. That may keep her hand out of your food and it may help you look like a great team player as well.

      Someone who is that into power plays probably would not respond well to assertiveness from a subordinate.

      1. Rebecca

        I respectfully disagree. Just because you choose to have snacks at your desk does not entitle the manager to free helpings. I had a manager who made double what I made, and would help herself to my pistachios, and it really irritated me. They were expensive, and a treat for me (I only got them when on sale and I had a coupon), and I’d dump out a serving size on a paper napkin on my desk. I’d eat them and pile up the shells, and even this did not stop her from grabbing half of them with one swipe. Gross. I started keeping them in my drawer and only eating 1 or 2 at a time. That’s how I solved that problem. She was always mooching gum too, so I just never had any, or if I was chewing it, oh, that was my last piece.

    3. Samwise

      Food you don’t want anyone else eating? Put it away (you can get a nice canvas lunchbag or a little cooler). Unless she’s reaching for your sandwich or forking up your leftover tofu stir fry, a tin of nuts and the like looks like a public candy dish. Should she ask? Yes. Easiest just to *prevent* the unwanted grazing.

      Or you could ostentatiously lick the food when she walks into your office…

      Butt on desk? As you are doing already, stack stuff in the way. If you have a desk phone, that’s excellent for taking up room, or any sort of desk accessory like a day calendar or in/out box. Or really, just say, I’m sorry, could you please sit in the chair?

    4. Essess

      I’m a bit passive aggressive. I’d buy a little hinged container for my nuts that I could put a tiny lock on so that it couldn’t be opened by the boss. :-D

    5. Aj

      Roasted some nuts in strong spices/chillis. She’s goes to eat them, quickly warn her they are Defcon5, even removing them out of reach. When she insists, reluctantly pass them to her, reminding her they are Defcon5 and if she’s going to eat them to take only one.

      Then pack your desk.

  11. Anonymouse

    Desksitters.
    Sharp paper clips pointed up when holding papers on the desk.
    Leave a pool of water on the side of the desk where they normally sit.
    Carefully balanced in or out tray full of papers which will tip over the floor when touched by any part of the anatomy.
    Dry ice on corner of desk. It evaporates but the cold lingers.
    Cactus, lots of cactus. With stickum on the sides of the flower pot so when they grab it to move it out of the way it sticks to their hand.
    When they sit down on the desk, flip it up on the other side with your hands hidden under the desk. As they lay on the floor with the desk partially on top of them, ask them if they have gained weight. (Can also be done by partially sawing through a desk leg. Some disassembly required.)

    1. Pomona Sprout

      Ha ha! I thought of cactus, too (though not the tape on the sides of the pot or any of the other ideas). My husband and I once had a prickly pear that looked deceptively harmless but actually harbored a surprising quantity of barely visible but amazingly painful spines. Something like that would be a great butt deflector, I’m sure.

      But seriously, it’s a mystery to me why objects such as those mentioned by the o.p. wouldn’t deter people. If people are actually rearranging items on the o.p.’s desk in order to sit on it, they are being very invasive of her personal space. Grown ass adults should know better than that. Were they raised by wolves, or what?

      1. valentine

        If people are actually rearranging items on the o.p.’s desk
        I think they are, just as they would move things off a chair (we’ve had OPs who’ve gone so far as to remove guest chairs from their areas to avoid people moving in for the day) and that they think of the desk or that section of it as buttland.

        1. Sam.

          I’m really wondering if/how the set up of the office plays into this. It seems to me that going to the trouble of moving stuff to sit on the desk when there’s an open chair available is odd, unless there’s a reason the chair is not a desirable option (maybe a weird angle to the desk or something). The OP should definitely get more comfortable asking them to do any sitting/leaning on the chair instead of the table, but I also wonder if there might be some more dramatic rearranging OP can do to make the chair the more natural option for visitors.

          1. Batgirl

            I’m wondering if they feel unable to take a chair without invitation. Sort of like how it’s important not to drone on at, or park yourself at a coworker without their cue. Table-perching is really more ‘I can move on if your face starts to glaze’.
            If the letter writer says ‘Sit down! I got this chair for your visits!’ it would be strange to not appreciate that, but if refused, she can always add ‘Oh no I have a thing about my desk organisation, do sit down instead’ that is still very welcoming.

            1. valentine

              Put the chair in front of the assaulted desk area? A problem if there are drawers, but worth it to see if people will move the chair because they’re so obsessed with sitting on the desk.

            2. JSPA

              Could be they want to exit the conversation gracefully without a formal “taking leave,” and that that’s harder to do when they have to exit a chair at the same time. Perching gives people a built-in excuse for moving along.

              OP did say that they sometimes have trouble navigating social conventions and higher – than- average formality, so maybe that’s one of the issues? Basically, they’re bringing extra informality to average – out the interaction??? (OP, please ignore if not relevant!).

              1. Little Did She Know

                OP reply- I think the formality is very relevant. It tends to happen with informal discussions like when they’re talking about their kids and other non-work topics. The chair is a little further away by design of the area, and can’t be moved closer for intimate discussion. However, if they would just sit down there, I would be happy to roll my chair closer to them.

                Now I’m thinking I could say something like, “Let’s sit over here so you don’t have to sit on the workspace.”

        2. Essess

          When they start moving things on the desk it’s time to get very vocal… “Please don’t rearrange my desk. I have things organized where I want/need them.”

    2. Jo

      Great ideas Anonymouse! Another idea, which I think was suggested on this site before when someone’s manager was always sitting on their desk, was to ‘accidentally’ knock over a cup of water while they are sitting there so they get a soggy behind. Or maybe put a layer of superglue in the spot people tend to sit on. When they finally get off, it will put them off ever getting back on. Just kidding – don’t do this :)

      1. Jaid

        Sometimes after sealing a lot of envelopes, my desk is covered in streaks of gluestick (I don’t lick envelopes ;-)_). Hint, hint.

  12. Maria Lopez

    For OP#1 just say, “I’d rather not participate in the crazy, thanks.” And then don’t.

    1. I Took A Mint

      You’re missing the key question of the letter: it’s not “can I get out of this?” it’s “Can I get out of this… without looking like a curmudgeon?”

      I doubt that response would engender respect and goodwill for OP afterwards. I don’t believe in numerology but I would still be offended by such an openly hostile and condescending response.

      1. Maria Lopez

        I don’t see it as condescending, and anyone with a sense of humor would laugh at it. I guess the offices I’ve worked in are different.

        1. I Took A Mint

          I guess so–in my experience if someone genuinely wants to include you in something and you call it crazy, it doesn’t leave a good impression.

          1. Kettles

            So… we should just tolerate this nonsense? This is laughable. Ridiculous. And not just because it’s numerology – bringing any sort of religion, spiritual practice or woo into the workplace is foolish.

            I’m baffled that no higher ups have shut this nonsense down.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago

              How is it any different than Meyers Briggs or Ennegrams or any of that other stuff that management tends to use?

              1. LQ

                It isn’t, they are all horrible and shouldn’t be used at work.

                I’d apply the same Harry Potter houses logic to this as to astrology question that came up recently.

              2. Kettles

                It’s no different. It’s also no different than proposing managing a team based on star signs, or tarot, or prayer, or opening a book and dowsing.

            2. JJ Bittenbinder

              No one is saying tolerate it. They’re saying to turn it down in a way that’s polite and fosters good working relationships. Be as intolerant as you want, but LW1 was looking for a polite way out.

              1. Kettles

                Suggesting that assigning work roles on the basis of numerology is a bad idea is not ‘intolerant’. Forcing your beliefs on others in the workplace (i.e. what her co-workers are doing) is, in fact, pretty intolerant, as well as tone deaf and apt to break labour laws.

                I agree with preserving good working relationships, which is why management should shut this down hard. It shouldn’t be on OP to be polite when her co-workers are being ridiculous and unprofessional. And this is not about disrespecting numerology; any more than saying prayer shouldn’t be in the office disrespects Christianity.

                It’s about saying it has zero place in the workplace.

            3. I Took A Mint

              You’ve misunderstood my point. There is a middle ground between “guess I have to go along with it” and “spit in their face and call them crazy.” As Alison said, OP could just respectfully say “hey no thanks.”

              1. Kettles

                I apologise. I find this sort of thing really offensive and that spilled over. Numerology is, after all, a spiritual practice and I have strong feelings about keeping religion and spirituality out of the workplace.

          1. ScarlettInTheBallroom

            Oh my. What a hateful, intolerant comment. I’m surprised Alison isn’t moderating this sort of speech here.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              From the commenting rules:

              I do not read and approve every single comment. The volume is far too high. I also sleep and work and do things that are not near a computer. So if you see a comment that seems problematic, please don’t do this: “I can’t believe this comment is allowed! Why has Alison approved this?!” Instead, assume I haven’t seen it and feel free to flag it and I’ll take a look (if you include a link in your comment, it’ll go to moderation so I’ll see it).”

          2. A Cita

            This is on par with religion for a lot of people, and traditions are even older than some organized religions. We don’t mock and debase religions on this site, and we shouldn’t these beliefs either. No, none of them belong at work. But the language you and others are using is really out of pocket.

            And I’m an atheist. I won’t disrespect anyone’s beliefs.

        2. Triplestep

          Really? You think using the term “the crazy” is something everyone will enjoy a good laugh over?

          No you don’t. I have a great sense of humor which is how I know that’s not funny, and you didn’t mean it to be. This comment section will no doubt be filled with snappy comeback suggestions for the LW by day’s end –
          as it will for LW #3 and her desk-sitters – but both these LWs are better off taking Alison’s advice.

        3. RUKiddingMe

          Lots of people “with a sense of humor” wouldn’t laugh at it.

          I think it’s pretty “woowoo” myself but I’ve known other people —with a sense of humor— who would be offended and certainly not laugh st bring called crazy.

        4. neverjaunty

          Any variation of ‘only those with no sense of humor fail to appreciate my joke’ is a big honking signal of the failure mode of clever.

          1. RUKiddingMe

            Guy makes gross comment towards women. Woman doesn’t laugh. Guy says, “it was a *joke…* get a sense of humor!” Ok then…

        5. Alianora

          I would laugh uncomfortably, out of awkwardness. But that’s not really a joke. You actually don’t want to participate and you do think it’s crazy.

          If you aren’t trolling, then being so hostile will honestly probably earn you a reputation in your office as unpleasant and rude. Even if no one says anything directly to you.

        6. neeko

          Not everyone has the same sense of humor as you. So “as anyone with a sense of humor” is a bit much.

      2. Aj

        And I would be offended by someone asking. But it seems the person with the “belief” (any belief) is the only one whose offence is to be considered.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      This is inappropriate for two reasons.

      #1 – it’s likely to offend the coworkers who believe in this sort of thing
      #2 – referring to anything as “the crazy” can be offensive to mentally ill people

      1. A Cita

        Thank you. The comments making fun of this are pretty offensive. The “crazy” just takes it over the top. These are, for lack of a better word, equivalent to religious beliefs to some people. I don’t mock people’s religious beliefs, even as an atheist myself. They don’t belong in a workplace, and one can internally think whatever they want about any non-science based belief system, but I’m not here for the mocking nor the use of offensive language like “crazy.”

      2. observation

        whereas for those of us who have to live with mentally ill people, the phrase “you can’t argue with crazy” is a lifeline.

    3. Manatees are cool

      That’s a very bad idea. Numerology and astrology have religious ties, for example Hinduism. You could get in big trouble.

    4. ScarlettInTheBallroom

      That’s incredibly insulting. This is a belief that people hold – you can’t just categorize it as crazy.

      1. i believe that we will win

        Flat Earthers? Anti-vaxxers? Climate change deniers? The Cubs repeating 2016? Not all “beliefs” are equally valid.

        1. ScarlettInTheBallroom

          The examples you’ve referenced are easily proven or disproven with science. Numerology was/can be/is part of a higher ideology or religion, which makes this case different.

          In any instance, I don’t think it’s fair or kind to call anyone’s ideas (proven or not!) “crazy”. That’s certainly not the way to change opinions or have discussions, but it is a sure-fire way to get someone to dig their heels in the mud and stop listening.

          1. Elf

            I’m with the people who say you shouldn’t be using the word crazy because of not stigmatizing mental illness, and I agree that this is a situation where the OP probably does not want to be particularly straightforward because she needs to preserve working relationships.

            However, I take real umbrage at people talking about religion as a special thing that does not interact with science. If someone comes at me with some religious mumbo jumbo like “god works in mysterious ways” I’m expected to smile and nod, and anything else is considered unspeakably rude. If I make an EQUIVALENT statement such as “There is no god,” that is also considered incredibly rude, even though it is a neutral statement of belief. There should not be a societal expectation that I humor grown adults when they start talking about their imaginary friends the way I humor my four-year-old when he talks about his.

            1. ScarlettInTheBallroom

              This is an interesting perspective and I totally get your frustration in thinking there is a double standard. I’m a Christian, but I take zero offense to anyone else who is atheist or any other religion for that matter. In my opinion, we’ve all had the same questions in this world – I’ve found my answers through Christianity. Others have found them elsewhere.

              While I would never take offense to anyone saying “there is no God”, I have to wonder if that’s ever said in a non-adversarial or non-confrontational way. Of course if someone says “God works in mysterious ways” and you respond “there is no God”, that’s a bit curt and rude. Just like if you said “there is no God” and I started debating you about it. You have your beliefs and I have mine, we can be respectful to each other about even if they’re the total opposite. No one wants to be “converted”.

              Not that we need to get in a big, off-topic thing about it, but religion is more than just having “imaginary friends” (although I can see why you’re saying that if it’s not part of your life and you’re not as familiar with it). Religion provides a source of comfort, hope and love; understanding of why things suck so hard sometimes. It helps people get through their dark times in their life- that there is a rhyme and a reason and that things will be OK.

              1. Canadian Public Servant

                I appreciate your tone in this, Scarlett, particularly in response to dismissive language on something you care deeply about.
                As an atheist, it is quite tiring and and time angering when people assume that their religion/values is either shared by me or universal. I can accept that the person saying “God works in mysterious ways” is most likely intending to be kind and comforting. But it can feel like an affront because I am then supposed to accept their beliefs, which are not mine, without question or push back. Mostly, I do it because it was offered in kindness, and because it’s almost always coming from someone who doesn’t know me well. But it reflects a thoughtlessness on the part of the other person.
                I was once working in Egypt, and at the end of a cab ride where I chatted with the lovely driver, he ended our conversation with “I wish you twins,” which is apparently a common nicety in certain areas. I didn’t feel the need to tell him I was never going to have children, and twins would be a nightmare in my opinion, but again – such a statement, however kindly intended, is not neutral or universal. For certain people, it could be quite painful to hear.

              2. RUKiddingMe

                IME “there is no god” is often said when someone just cant hear “god blah blah blah…” being pushed on them, and being expected to smile abd nod for *one more second.*

              3. Elf

                Ah, sorry, part of that was poorly worded – I didn’t mean using “There is no god” as a response, I meant that in a conversation where a religious person starts out with a god statement, anything I say that isn’t going along with the god statement is considered rude, whereas if I try to start a conversation with a no god statement, I am already automatically rude.

            2. Burned Out Supervisor

              I’ve never thought about it in this way, and I have to agree with you. I think it’s really interesting that in daily life we feel compelled to display tolerance toward people who verbally express their religious beliefs, but we don’t reciprocate to those who don’t believe (or believe in a different higher power). I’d argue that the kind and non-patronizing response to something like “God works in mysterious ways” would be “That’s nice for you to think that” or something like that. I’ve had people ask to pray over me when I’m injured or hand me religious tracts and I usually just reply with “No thanks, I’m good!” in a cheerful tone. FWIW, I’m agnostic, so statements of faith don’t really make me feel weird, but I just don’t want to participate in their particular flavor of Christianity.

  13. Clementine

    For a lot of people I know, the numerology and astrology would be incredibly against their religious beliefs. In my case, it’s against my rational beliefs. Is it possible to convey either of those without sounding judgmental? Maybe something like, “My belief practice is different, and I don’t interact with numerology or astrology.” Has anyone seen this done successfully? I’m glad this issue has not come up for me.

    1. Jess

      +1
      I like this approach.

      I’m kind of agnostic on astrology these days, but for a long time I *hated* whenever anyone brought up the subject, because my astrological sign is cancer, which was also the cause of death for multiple close relatives… so asking me my astrological sign had an effect like what LW #5 wrote in about :(

    2. I Took A Mint

      How about “I’m not into astrology” said with the same tone as if you were saying “I’m not into photography.” As if it’s a hobby you don’t partake in but also don’t feel you’re better than.

    3. BRR

      I’n not sure if you can express that it’s against your rational beliefs without it sounding judgmental. Because you’re saying you find it irrational. Saying it’s not for you is a way of not sounding judgemental but still backing out of it. Like I took a mint says, treat it like saying you’re not into photography (or sports, or horror movies, etc).

      1. Slartibartfast

        Start with “it’s not for me, thanks” and escalate to “well it’s against my beliefs actually” if they continue to push it.

        1. Slartibartfast

          And if they still won’t let it go, “I don’t like to discuss religion at work” and grey rock it from there.

  14. Zona the Great

    OP 3 Consider yourself lucky. Most professional desks are at the exact level where I can scoot right on up on the corner and sit my crotch on it like a bicycle seat. I was not aware of this until I embarrassingly had someone pointed out to me whilst I went over the latest project with him.

    But it’s so comfortable. Like in high school and college if you had big boobs; you’d just slip ‘em onto the desk top and rest them there during class because of the awkward height.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.

      I swear this is the only workplace/career blog on the entire internet where the word “crotch” shows up regularly.

  15. LilyP

    LW #1 — it sounds like you don’t have a serious aversion (e.g. like a religious aversion) to whatever they’re doing, so my opinion is you might as well roll with it! I don’t think astrology or numerology have any scientific basis, but there’s a lot of “eye of the beholder” stuff going on there, and I think you can sometimes learn a lot about yourself or others by seeing which parts of their magic number/sign-based personality descriptions they identify with or latch onto as “wow soooo accurate it’s spooky!!!” Like you said, you can always deal with it directly later if they make it weird, agreeing to try it once doesn’t mean you’re swearing to abide by the results for all time or anything.

    Obviously if you feel truly uncomfortable you have every right to shut it down, but if you’re on the fence it might be interesting to try! I think the subtext of all “work bonding” activities is that getting to know each other personally can help you work together better, so maybe just see this as them inviting you to try their niche hobby and approach it from a “this isn’t my thing but tell me what you like about it” angle.

    1. Curly

      I agree with this comment. It doesn’t matter if a company is using numerology, Myers-Briggs (which I think is also nonsense) or some other method. Where it can be useful is to frame a conversation about communication styles and the various methods, strengths and weaknesses. Some styles work much better for some people and that’s helpful to know sometimes. It may not shake out that way in this case, but don’t automatically shut down what could be the start of a good method of sharing information. It doesn’t mean you have to buy into numerology, just take what you can from it.

      1. Woowoo

        If they are irrational enough to believe in this nonsense, why trust them to rationally use the “results” ?

      2. only acting normal

        Myers-Briggs, Big Five etc have their problems but at least they pigeonhole your personality based on *actual questions about your personality*.

        1. Curly

          As far as I am concerned Myers Briggs etc are no more valid than numerology or basing interaction on your colour season. But that’s fine, because when my company wants to do MBTI and have a full day session discussing how we can better communicate as a team (and they do) then I take what I can from it.

        2. Ice and Indigo

          Apparently Big Five is the only system that has reasonable studies backing it up. But frankly, I wouldn’t recommend doing that one in a work situation: the last thing you want is people making comments about your unsatisfactory scores in conscientiousness, neuroticism, or agreeableness. The terms are seriously loaded and could very easily be abused!

      3. Mongrel

        Sorry Curly, I’ve always seen the “framing a conversation” spiel as an I believe in this (whether it’s astronomy\Briggs-Myers\Numerology) and want to backfill excuses to be able to use them on other people.
        If a person needs to have a conversation about communication and use these as a starting point then they may want to look at their own communications first,

        1. EPLawyer

          Or you know, have a conversation on communication without any pseudoscience. No you are not having trouble understanding my instructions because you are an INFXLMNOP, you are having trouble because you don’t take notes and figure you will just remember everything because you are a 4.

          Only said nicer.

      4. sb51

        Yeah—what about saying something like “numerology isn’t my thing but if you come up with ways you like to be interacted with please let me know”. We did one of those style assessments at work and it gave you the things it thought you would like but the booklet had the whole list of possible outcomes and we were allowed to pick from the whole list. Then we all put that info somewhere our team could see. Like my “please send me critical stuff in email not verbally” which is entirely because my audio processing stinks and not because I’m a type that hates talking—I enjoy chatting with people, I just might miss an important detail that way.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        Bingo! And to answer your question…because our culture thinks religion is special and therefore gets treated as such. *I* dont, at all, just that’s why religion (always) gets s pass.

        1. Ico

          Religion is a legally protected class, which does make it special relative to things which are not.

          1. RUKiddingMe

            I know that. I wasn’t talking about “legally protected” as much ad I was saying that religion gets a pass pretty much everywhere while rational, critical thinking and actual provable science gets short shrift a lot of times because it’s been drilled into us that “religion is the most specialist thing in the whole world ever, ever, ever!!!”

            1. Falling Diphthong

              It’s been drilled into people that religion is not going to be susceptible to logical arguments, and rather than put up with “Bob explains why his religion is the correct one, while George explains that nuh uh his religion is correct and Bob is going to hell” workplaces and civilized dinner parties eschew religious debate.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy

        Because a rational aversion says, “This is stupid.” A religious aversion says, “This is wrong.”

        1. Magenta

          I strongly believe that anything that causes people to act based on false information is morally wrong. This kind of thing goes against my deeply held personal beliefs, but because those beliefs are not religious they are given less respect.

      3. LilyP

        A serious aversion could absolutely be based on a strongly-held rationalist philosophy! I just gave “religious” as one example. My read was the letter writer just doesn’t personally believe in astrology and thinks it’s kind of silly

    2. LGC

      There’s a couple of things: first, I can’t help but think about the employee who constantly talked about astrology about a week ago (sorry, LW1’s coworkers), so I’m personally in a slightly less woo frame of mind than usual.

      Second…it seems like LW1 is REALLY against this just from the language they used. So it looks like they’ve made up their mind and it’s not something I would argue with.

      1. Czhorat

        As I said below, there’s a big difference between “my co-worker believes in astrology and keeps talking about it ” and “my boss believes in numerology and _acting as my boss_ forces us to take part in it”.

        Your boss has a measure of authority, which makes this far, far more potentially damaging. It can be read as the company officially encouraging employees to use this in making choices as to how to treat each other and really needs to be shut down. If you consider it a religious belief, then it’s the company pushing their religion onto you.

        Either way, it’s not OK and not entirely analogous to last week’s astrologer.

        1. LGC

          You misunderstood me – I wasn’t trying to compare the two situations. For what it’s worth, I actually agree with your main point, I just said that I was feeling more skeptical of that sort of stuff because it reminded me of the previous letter.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      She has a serious aversion to something that is not at all appropriate to do at work? Yeah okay. Would you say the same thing to a group who was pushing their religious beliefs onto the LW to incorporate it into their work and how they treat each other, because this is no different. If they want to meet outside of work and start a numerology club, that’s great for them. But they’re pushing their beliefs at work, and that is NOT okay. I wouldn’t want to participate either, and I wouldn’t care about being seen as a curmudgeon.

    4. EventPlannerGal

      She describes it as “hippy nonsense”, “crazy” and the entire letter is about how to get out of it. That sounds pretty averse to me.

      1. ChimericalOne

        Yeah, I’m not sure what about this letter gave LilyP the impression that there was any chance the LW was “on the fence.” I read nothing but strong aversion.

    5. Lance

      Honestly… I don’t see the benefit. On the contrary, I see a possibility for people to over-latch onto something they ‘find’ in such practice and use that as a definitive, infallible feature… which totally defeats the point of getting to actually know each other. Of which there are far, far better ways to go about it. Go out to lunch, discuss hobbies… do something that’s not predicated on ‘this is your birthday/sign/X uncontrollable factor, so this is what you must be’.

    6. EventPlannerGal

      The overall tone of the letter really makes the OP sound seriously averse to the whole thing to me.

      And honestly, I think the “frame the conversation” thing makes the whole conversation a lot more complex than it needs to be. If you want to discuss people’s working styles, discuss those styles. Why frame it in terms of these sweeping categorisations of people’s entire personalities, based on systems that many people don’t believe in or actively think are ridiculous? I’m sure that it is possible for some people to get something useful from these systems, but for many others it’s just pointless and alienating.

      1. Bostonian

        I think some of the “frame the conversation” argument comes from the perspective of being unwittingly involved in these analyses. You signed up for a session on leadership/communication/whatever, you’re in the meeting, you see a personality assessment coming on, and instead of running out of the room screaming, calling the facilitator irrational, you try to make the most of it and learn something new about communication styles (or reinforce what you already know).

        In the OP’s case, there’s an opportunity to duck out before it gets off the ground, but some of us get that thrown on us unawares, and I don’t see anything wrong with trying to get something out of a less than ideal situation.

    7. MaureenC

      I was once asked my zodiac sign during an interview. Later it was used against me in office gossip, because apparently some signs are known for drama. So unless everything under your number is a positive trait in the context of your office… don’t.

    1. Susan Calvin

      Until it came up in a 99% Invisible episode a few months ago, I legitimately didn’t know this was from a TV show – I only knew it as the intro to Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast”

    2. foolofgrace

      Love The Prisoner!

      Re: Numerology, I suggest you consult the Magic Eight Ball before making any decisions on that front. ;)

  16. Airy

    I have a hypothesis that people like to use numerology and astrology in the way #1 describes because they want to feel like they have a comprehensive, useful understanding of a person’s temperament and how they’re likely to respond to given situations, but because that takes a lot of time and observation for each individual person they want a short cut, which means using stereotypes. Most reasonably nice people feel uncomfortable about stereotyping for obvious reasons; assuming things about people’s personalities and working styles because of their class or gender or ethnic group is not cool. Systems based on birth date, though, have the advantage that the day you were born is arbitrary, is not the consequence of any of your own choices, and doesn’t reflect on anyone associated with you (other than when creepy people like to speculate on when your parents must have conceived you, ugh) – plus there’s the pinch of pixie dust that they’re supposed to work by magic or mystic forces, further removing them from the taint of human judgement or prejudice. Much more comfortable!
    But no more actually informative and useful for workplace purposes than generalising about “millennials” or “island time” or “women amirite?” – just less insulting.
    I don’t think pointing this out would do any good since they’d probably feel accused and get defensive, but it’s interesting to think about. I’d say, “Well, I didn’t get to choose my birthday and I think the things I have chosen to do say a lot more about me than that. Let’s stick to that.”
    Or maybe you’ll be lucky and there will turn out to be two people on the team with exactly the same birthday who are so obviously different that everyone feels a bit silly and talks about where to have lunch instead.

    1. Anonybus

      Your first point is kind of what gives me the creeps about this apparent trend of typologizing people… wanting to be able to predict what another person is going to do in any situation could possibly be benign, but I’ve found that people who get really intense about it (using numerology, mbti, applied behavioral analysis, whatever) turn out to be actually more interested in controlling other people’s behavior.

      1. Ice and Indigo

        Have you seen ABA used to typologize? I’ve got a fair amount of experience with that, including a first-tier qualification, and I’ve never seen it used that way; I always had it stressed that ‘summary labels’ are exactly what it’s against.

        1. Anonybus

          Yes, by one person who I do not think has a very comprehensive understanding of it. Not that I do; this dude tends to position himself as an amateur “psychology expert”, which I have come to believe means “read a bunch of wikipedia articles and think pieces”. He’s a singularly insufferable human being, in my opinion.

    2. LQ

      Hopefully there’s 23 people on the team.

      I think this is a very good explanation of it.

      Depending on the people involved they’ll brush off your brushing off of this as “such a 3 thing to say”.

      At which point I do like saying that it’s not great to be reduced to just one characteristic, like there are only 9 people in the world and how uninteresting of a world would that be if there were really only 9/4/16/whatever types of people. One of the great things about humans is how complex and interesting they are and isn’t it better to understand and interact with people based on how they behave rather than the random happenstance of their birth (or when their parents had sex which is the slightly cruder version but definitely what I’ve said to stop really aggressive astrologers in the past.)

  17. Jemima Bond

    LW#5, might this be a good time to express to one or two trusted colleagues how all this is making you feel, so they can spread the word a bit that you’d prefer not to talk about your mum at the moment? I’m sure if a colleague said to another, yes it’s really sad about Jane’s mum but can you imagine how many people are mentioning it, it’s really difficult for her having her loss brought up every other minute, why not leave it for now? then they’d take the point. And if the trusted friend were to be challenged by the well meaning colleague – come on now, if you know your condolences will just make Jane feel worse then who is it really for, her or you? Let her be.

    1. WellRed

      I got the impression it’s not necessarily coworkers, but other people she may be encountering for the first time since the death.

        1. Sam.

          Unless OP is meeting with these clients solo, I could still see a variation of this working. I’ve had coworkers I could imagine asking to be a buffer on this subject and to help change the subject if the client brought it up.

  18. non-horny scorpio

    LW#1, I’m ambivalent about astrology but I idly looked up my sun and moon signs and apparently I am an *incredibly intense* combination (Scorpio Sun, Ares Moon), so if you like you can borrow that for the next time somebody asks and then at least you’ll have free license for any uh, INTENSE actions you feel like committing.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      This made me laugh, because I too describe as extremely intense by astrology: by western astrology I’m a Leo, and by Asian astrology I’m a Fire Horse. Woo hoo, what a ride!
      Come to think of it, I once used Asian astrology to deflect & distract a former co-worker who read her horoscope daily AND wanted to read it to ME. “Having the whole year grouped together makes more sense to me because everyone reacts to the people they grow up around.” I asked her for her birth year so I could look up her Asian astrological information and such a funny thing happened: she found a work-related excuse to leave my office.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        (I’m not Asian, but I spent several years in a shared housing situation where I was the minority, and sometimes the only non-Asian.)

      2. non-horny scorpio

        I kind of love being this rather volatile combination tbh, because 1. I’m honestly very boring and quite enjoy the fact and 2. reading descriptions of how intense, sexy, mysterious, vindictive and ambitious I reportedly am is always good for a laugh.

        (Boo on your co worker! I just found out I’m an Earth Dragon! Way more fun than a boring old insect-bull)

      3. Czhorat

        This is a point that came up during the last astrology discussion here: one person’s cherished belief is another’s backward superstition, and vice-versa.

  19. LGC

    I don’t know, maybe it’s the Taurus in me, but I think that LW1 should trade jobs with the lady from last week who judged everyone based off of astrology. (I’ll link that letter later.)

    That said, yeah, LW1, you do sound a bit curmudgeonly, but this is a situation where being a curmudgeon is perfectly fine in my opinion. I’d anticipate a woo-valanche, so…be prepared and try not to give them an opening.

    1. Elf

      It’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back (each snowflake is a small thing, but enough of them together are an avalanche)

    2. Twinkling Snow

      A snowflake on its own isn’t much, but put enough of them together and you get an avalanche. It’s a metaphor for the way that a lot of small things can add up to a big problem, in this case each individual person offering condolences to the OP isn’t a big issue, but the fact that this happens frequently and repeatedly is. Each instance is a snowflake, so the person doesn’t think it’s a problem, but for the OP it feels like an avalanche because thy have to experience them all.

  20. Indisch blau

    LW #5 – I’m sorry you’re going through this. I can’t speak from experience, but I wonder if you might like to have the memories people are recounting now at a later time. Maybe you could ask to write down their experiences with and memories of your mother and give them to you on paper or as a file to collect and read some other time?

    1. Moonbeam Malone

      When my brother died a few of his friends started a blog which a bunch of other friends submitted posts to. It was a lovely collection of pictures and stories about him, and I could look at it on my own time, when I was emotionally ready for it.

  21. Face of Boe

    OP#2…

    Keep up (or start) the job search. As long as you’re already doing work that’s worthy of at least the overall market average, you might as well find a company that is willing and able to pay you that amount. You have no obligation to remain underpaid.

  22. Delta Delta

    #1 – Perhaps I read this differently than others. It looks to me like this started as an idea that snowballed. “Hey! Let’s do a team-building event!” > “let’s try this fun numerology thing!” > “hey! This website says we can use it to guide our interpersonal interactions!” > “Maybe we can do that!” I guess it’s up to OP to know how much follow-through the coworkers have with actually doing this. Also, if Fergus says “I’m going to be extra kind to Jane today since it’s a Tuesday and she’s a 28” does this hurt? (I have no idea how numerology works.)

    I think OP can be breezy about it and say this isn’t her thing and she’s prefer not to participate. “No thanks, but have fun, everyone!”

    1. Jennifer Juniper

      It could hurt if OP gets branded as a narcissist because they’re a Leo, for instance.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        ODL now I have to wonder.
        I work for one of those companies that requires managers flag something where an employee isn’t doing well.
        *FOR YEARS* I was given a poor plays-well-with-others rating because I was too agressive and didn’t pay attention to others. That irritated me because I was the one calling for compromise, consensus, and clear communication*. Now I have to wonder if it said more about my manager’s astrology habits than my behavior….yes I’m a Leo.

        (*And excessive alliteration. I am too amused to edit it.)

    2. Falling Diphthong

      An example of hurt from the astrology thread would be:
      “We can’t do this because it violates hazardous waste laws.”
      “That’s so Scorpio of you!”
      “No–it’s my job to keep us in compliance with all the regulations about shipping chemicals, and so this proposal won’t–”
      “So Scorpio!”

      Random reasons to be nice to other people probably won’t hurt in the grand scheme. (Though “because Pat’s mom has been in the hospital” is always going to be sounder than “Alex is a 2 and Pat is a 4, so Alex is the one who get’s the days niceness allotment.”) Having what you say dismissed because “Scorpio” or “Gen X” or “862” will.

      1. No Name For Me Today

        I actually had this happen at my current job. Boss is huge into Enneagrams and we spent some time looking at our numbers at a retreat. It was kind of funny, although when I saw that some people were taking it a bit more seriously than I expected and would say to me ‘Oh, that’s because you’re a 2’ I started to respond ‘No, I’m just weird/different nationality to you/not neuro-typical’, or make some other joke that seemed to deflect the conversation nicely.

        Then, a few months ago at a staff meeting, Boss was trying to get an answer to a question that did not actually have an easy answer. She badgered one of my coworkers to give her this answer and this coworker, who is always so conscientious about the information she gives out, understandably hesitated. My Boss pushed her again and said ‘I know 9s don’t like to give clear answers, but anything you can give me would be really useful’. I was livid! It was not the first time she’s done this but I somehow never acknowledged how rude and unprofessional it was. And you want to be taken seriously, Boss?

        Now, this may not happen to OP1 or anyone else, but I just know that I am going to run for the hills if any future manager or team of mine starts trying to pigeon-hole me because of any characteristic – especially one based on absolutely no scientific fact.

        1. Arts Akimbo

          I left a comment above that was getting at what you and Falling Dipthong have put so clearly– this stuff is way too often used to dismiss unliked ideas (or people!) and treat others with prejudice because of some arbitrary label. That’s what makes me so angry about this stuff.

    3. LQ

      The hurt is having management, or even coworkers, decided that you ARE A WAY and that you will be that way forever regardless of your actual behavior. You’re a Taurus/3 so you’re just incredibly bull headed about everything. Except you as a human being with actual behaviors behave in a very compromising way for the most part, overly conciliatory even, but then one time dig in your heels about something you really think is the wrong way of doing it. And instead of people going…”Wow! Delta rarely pushes back hard about something we should really pause and listen because it’s a big deal.” they go “Oh that Delta, such a Taurus/3.” and ignore the actual behavior.

      The problem, the hurt? Is using numbers/star signs/letters/harry potter houses instead of behaviors and demonstrated skills to work with people.

      8’s are really good at doing tasks but not great at leading so don’t promote them.

      1. Delta Delta

        Ah. I was not really thinking about it that way. I was thinking about it more in terms of a superficial fun association. But, I suppose if a coworker dismissed someone else out of hand because they’re a Taurus or a Hufflepuff or their name starts with M, my response would be to say something like, “did you really just say that?”

  23. Anonymously

    15 years ago I worked in an office with a woman who was incontinant and the wife of the boss. She would always sit in your desk when she came to talk with you. On at least one occasion she left behind a small puddle. She seemed entirely unaware and no one would say anything because she was the boss’s wife. Everyone would just lysol their desk after she left.

    1. Asenath

      The relative of the owner of a grocery store I used to go to brought her little dog shopping – dogs are not allowed in local food businesses unless of course they’re one of those very well-trained service dogs. This dog was a pet, and either not very well trained in the most basic sense of the term, or had some kind of health issue relating to incontinence. As far as I know, the dog was never turned away and any “mistakes” were just cleaned up by the staff. There’s something to be said for large supermarket chains with standard rules on such things. To be fair, a different small privately-owned supermarket I sometimes visit appears to have no sanitation issues at all, dog or human-related.

      Sitting on a desk is not an issue in my workplace – maybe manners, maybe because the desks aren’t large and mostly don’t have space. But surely, a simple “Oh, do take the chair!” as soon as the bottom edges on the desk would take care of it? Followed by, “Oh, I insist!” if the sitter says anything like “I’m just goint to be here a minute”.

    2. DeColores

      If I had to choose where someone left a puddle, I’d rather the hard surface of my desk where it can be wiped down vs. a fabric chair that will absorb it.

      I mean, no puddles is definitely preferred

      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

        I still have a stain on my comforter because of the time my best friend in college, who had the kind of incontinence where you pee if you laugh, sat on my bed. It has been washed MANY times over the years and the stain is still there. I’d much rather have a puddle on something non-staining, if I had to have a puddle at all.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Adding this to my current workplace’s gratitude list.

      “Could be worse; coworkers could be peeing on my desk.”

  24. Madeleine Matilda

    #4 – Your former manager offered you some dates to meet so take her up on her offer. However, I do think that one month is a very short time to wait to ask to her to meet. You only worked with her for over a year. A year is hardly long enough for the two of you to develop a good working relationship, let alone a friendship (let me note that as your manager, if she was a good manager, she wouldn’t have been your friend at work anyway). When I left my former job, I saw my former manager (who was my boss for 9 years) once in the first two years after I left when I visited with a group from my new job for a meeting. Now some five years later my former manager as well as another colleague who also left try to meet for dinner once or twice a year to catch up. Time will tell whether you have a friendship with your former manager that is purely based on your professional relationship or a real friendship where you would socialize frequently.

  25. KehSquared

    When my MIL died, I dreaded the condolences. I sent an email to my colleagues and said that I find in-person condolences to be overwhelming and asked that they be sent by email instead so I could process them on my own time, and that I preferred to keep our in-person interactions business as usual. People respected my wishes and I was very grateful. This sort of “business as usual” request is also often included now when a notice goes out about a death in a staff member’s family.

    It may be a bit too late for OP 5 to use this solution, but perhaps it will be helpful for someone in the future.

  26. Czhorat

    The situation with OP1 is different and much worse than last week’s astrologist co-worker; I feel that we need to respect each others beliefs within reason, but do not need to give the same deference to institutional overreaches. This is one hundred percent worth pushing back against in any way you can.

    If the person that be are so set on this idea, it becomes a point in favor of job searching.

  27. Lepidoptera

    LW #2, join the Society for Technical Communication and download the salary database. It provides exhaustive salary data drilled down by zip code, by NAICS code, and by cross-function.

    Also keep in mind that you’ve been doing this job for less than a year, and based on the language in your letter, this role isn’t your study major or original career goal. I’m incredibly skeptical of the idea that you’re more than twice as good as your predecessors in a fraction of the time, especially given that technical writing is highly dependent on minutiae, style guides, industry-specific jargon, and legalese. It’s not a job you can just toss any warm body into. Gently, you sound a bit naive.

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      I wondered about that too. But maybe the OP replaced people who were also untrained as technical writers.

    2. Sam.

      The commenting guidelines ask us to give the LWs the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to trust that she has an accurate measure of the situation and assume that she did not pull the comparison out of thin air, nor did she imagine the feedback she’s received from her bosses.

    3. LizardOfOdds

      I tend to agree, though I would not call the LW naïve. Technical writing is absolutely a field someone can pick up and master quickly, particularly if they come in to the field with subject matter expertise and strong writing aptitude. Surely OP2 is still learning and they may still be considered junior in their role, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that they be paid similarly to others at TW I in the industry.

      The caution I might offer instead is to ensure their salary analysis is relevant for their level of experience. A senior TW can draw significantly higher comp than an entry level TW for the reasons mentioned by Lepidoptera. Usually someone senior in the role brings more strategic value vs. a more junior role where the focus is more on output.

  28. Jilly

    OP2 – I once got a raise out of the blue – manager asked me to stop by sometime after lunch and handed me an envelope with a letter from HR with a new rate. It was about $5K/yr. I quickly figured out that they weren’t trying to stop me from asking for a raise, they just didn’t want me to sue. They had just hired a white man into my department with qualifications almost exactly like mine and I’m a woman and a minority. Because we work on reimbursable government contracts where the client gets to approve all billable rates, we have to follow the client’s policy that rates are based on salary history for new hires (there is a government form that employer and employee have to sign that documents salary history and that the employer verified the info. There are criminal penalties associated with inaccurate info on the form). The new guy had moved around a lot which is how you get the salary bumps whereas I had been with only 2 firms since beginning my career so my annual bumps were much lower than new hire bumps. So basically they were following policy by paying him based on his salary history but it was problematic that his rate was so much higher than mine, so they bumped me to get us closer together.

    1. WellRed

      Yet another reason salary history is not a great basis for pay going forward. Though I realize government is its own animal.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      That’s exactly the setup as to why states are working to ban salary history being asked about and the system used to justify unequal pay! I’m glad they caught it before you did and didn’t act like they weren’t breaking laws.

    3. TiffanyAching

      I think this kind of thing is going to be happening more frequently as pay equity becomes a bigger issue. I know several states have passed various versions of pay equity legislation, some of which allow employees who have been paid less for essentially the same work to sue for back wages. In my state, the law says you can’t decrease anyone’s pay to meet equity, so everyone with a difference needs to get a raise. The challenge, from the employer’s side, is how to give those increases without reminding people that, hey, I’ve been underpaid for the last X years and can sue for that money! I forsee a lot of people getting surprise raises, like you.

  29. Foreign Octopus

    OP4 I’d readjust your expectations of a relationship with this person. As a commentator stated above, these relationships are very much situational and it’s not that they don’t like you, it’s just it’s a relationship that makes sense within a work context.

    Now, your former manager could just be very busy settling in (and one month is pretty early to be trying to arrange for a lunch) or they could be doing what I do and putting the previous job behind them. It’s hard to tell. However, work relationships don’t really survive outside of the workplace for the simple reason that people move on and change.

    It’s not personal so try not to feel it so personally.

  30. Hoops

    For the desk sitter, I’ll admit my first thought for a solution is just to smear some jelly on your desk.

  31. BabyGoat

    As someone who finds sitting on desks infinitely more comfortable than sitting on most office chairs out there, it has literally NEVER occurred to me that anyone would be grossed out by it. Obviously it would be rude to push aside someone’s things or invade their space if the desk is small, but surely you have clothes on so personally I don’t see what’s so gross about it. Though I know I have an pretty high tolerance for “gross”. That being said I would never want to gross anyone out so I’ll be more careful about my desk-sitting from here on out. I’d say a good percentage of the people who are sitting on LW’s desk feel the same way (find it physically more comfortable to sit on a desk and don’t realize some people perceive it as gross) and would be happy to use the chair if they realized they were making LW uncomfortable so I’d say it’s just a matter of directly asking them to use the chair.

    1. Jennifer

      Butts are dirty. That’s why I don’t like people on my desk. I eat at mine too. Not singling out any particular butt.

      1. a1

        Bare hands spread WAY more germs than clothed butts. Do you also have a problem with people touching your desk to pick things up or put things downs (like papers or pens, or etc), or letting someone borrow a pen or pencil, or with using a conference table, etc?

          1. valentine

            The entire desk is part of the person’s personal space. I hated people dumping their stuff on my customer service desk, which they would move stuff to do, and then not move the stuff back. As much as I love sitting high, I probably wouldn’t do this to anyone whose lap I wouldn’t sit on.

            1. Pommette!

              This is what it comes down to for me, too. I’ll happily sit on my own desk when there is an opportunity for it – I find the height more comfortable than a chair’s – but I wouldn’t think of sitting on someone else’s desk unless they offered. It feels intrusive.
              If they are sitting at their desk, that puts you literally in their face. And if not, it’s still a work-station that they may not want disturbed.

          2. a1

            As is your right, but saying it’s because of dirt/germs is illogical and that’s all I was pointing out. We touch so many things in a shared office that are WAY more dirtier, all the time. E.g. study after study shows phones are dirtier than toilet seats. So, it’s just is illogical to say a clothed butt is too germy. Just don’t justify the request. It’s a reasonable one, after all.

            1. Jennifer

              I didn’t say it was because of germs. I said they are dirty. Which they are. I shouldn’t have to present a scientific study to get someone’s butt off my desk and honestly going into that level of detail about it is a bit condescending.

              1. a1

                And yet someone below me made the same argument and you didn’t call them condescending. I also said it was a reasonable request and suggested not to justify it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

              2. Ice and Indigo

                I suspect the problem is that you’re mixing together statements of personal preference ‘Butts gross me out’ with statements of objective fact ‘Butts are dirty’. Personal preferences are fine, within reason, and not wanting people’s butts on your desk is within reason. Statements of objective fact are open to question and discussion. So if you don’t want to go into detail, sticking to personal preference is probably the way to go.

              3. SarahTheEntwife

                In what sense are (clothed) backsides dirtier than hands or arms? I don’t normally go around sitting in mud puddles, and most places I sit are also places I touch with my hands. You’re totally allowed to tell people to get off your desk just because you don’t want them sitting on it, but you’re presenting facts as if they’re obviously true.

                1. Jennifer

                  Saying that something poop comes out of could be dirty is presenting facts as if they are obviously true? Not trying to be snarky but I think all of you are taking this a bit too seriously.

                2. Ice and Indigo

                  I don’t think people sit on their actual anuses! That would require some extreme contortions.

                3. I Took A Mint

                  It’s not about literally biologically testing for germs, it’s about what feels dirty. Same reason we don’t share used & washed underwear, or used & washed toothbrushes.

                  Do you want to eat a donut your coworker has just picked up and put down with their hands?
                  Do you want to sit in their chair after you just heard them fart in it?
                  Do you want to want to put on their shoes they’ve been wearing all day?
                  Do you want to use your coworker’s phone after they wiped the screen on the front of their pants?

                  Depends on which coworker, right? You might be OK with a spouse doing these things but not your coworker or a stranger. It’s not about the biological germs passed, it’s about how gross it feels.

              4. Janie

                So if I’m wearing a skirt, and my thigh brushes your desk, it’s fine, but two inches up is somehow inherantly dirtier? What if I turn my skirt partway through the desk? Is the side of my hip now dirty?

      2. BabyGoat

        But presumably you’re eating off a clean plate with clean utensils and you’ve washed your hands first. The risk of any sort of disease transmission when someone (fully clothed) sat on a desk and you later ate off a clean plate on top of the desk with clean utensils and hands is very low. You’re much more likely to get sick from touching a door handle or phone after someone or shaking someone’s hand. That’s why I personally don’t find it gross. That being said, as I said in my original post, I respect other people’s right to decide how I interact with their space and wouldn’t sit on someone’s desk if they asked me not to. My point was just that I’ve never heard of anyone being bothered by it before in my life prior to this post so it’s not necessarily obvious that LW is bothered by it so they probably just need to make that clear.

        1. Jennifer

          That’s true, but it’s not really about disease transmission. It’s just something that grosses me and a lot of other people out. It’s good that you would change your behavior if someone asked. I honestly would find it strange if I asked someone to stop sitting on my desk and they went into a long lecture about how there are more germs on hands or door knobs than on their butt.

        2. Jennifer

          I also don’t want a butt in my face when I’m trying to work. Sometimes people sit on your desk to talk to a different person across the aisle. SUPER annoying.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

            Same here.

            I have a pretty robust immune system and am not worried about germs. I just don’t want my coworkers’ private parts that close to my face. I guess I just don’t like them in that way!

      3. MatKnifeNinja

        Seriously, a butt covered by (hopefully) underwear and another bit of cloth isn’t enough to making sitting on my desk not gross.

        My last manic pixie fairy coworker, over shared she didn’t wear underwear. She also didn’t wash her hands after going potty. We hope she blotted her nether regions afterwards (coin toss).

        So when her gauzey, skirted tush would wind up square on my desk, I Clorox Wipe -d that bish as soon as she left. Butts don’t belong where people eat, and we all eat at out desks.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          Ugh, I would be so grossed out too.

          The most memorable case of butt-on-desk I ever witnessed was at a very Old Job 20 years ago, when I walked past my boss’s fishbowl-type office one day and saw a female teammate, wearing a short skirt and a lowcut top, sitting on his desk directly facing him in his chair, bending towards him to make sure he’d get the full view. It was a small company where most of the employees were fairly new to the work world, which led to a lot of really weird and unprofessional stuff happening in that office, but even with everything else, that stood out. No idea of whether she wore underwear (could’ve been either way with that coworker) or whether he Clorox Wipe’d the desk after she left. We were forbidden from having any food or drink at our desks though, so there’s that.

        2. Jennifer

          Yep, we don’t know how well they clean up after themselves in the bathroom if you catch my drift, lol. From what I see in the shared kitchen, I don’t hold out a lot of hope.

    2. LCL

      Often, depending on where you are sitting in the chair at the desk and where the desk sitter plops down, the desk sitter’s erm, package ends up much closer to the chair sitter’s face than either party would like. I don’t want a close up personal view of my coworkers that way.

    3. emmelemm

      One true thing I’ve learned from having read a lot of Ask A Manager is that there is a very, very wide scale of germophobia out there, and if we try to rate it on a 1 – 10, I’m at about a 2.

      I am just completely unfazed by the vast majority of things that people seem to stress over.

  32. Jennifer

    #5 I think you can be honest in a polite way. These people presumably care about you and don’t want to cause you any more pain, right? You can say, “I so appreciate your kind words but the past year has been incredibly difficult and hearing these stories just can be so draining, even though I know you mean no harm. Would you mind if we just focus on work for now?” I personally would want to know if I was inadvertently doing something that was hurting someone.

  33. nuqotw

    #5 – I’m so sorry. This sucks a lot. When my dad’s passing comes up in conversation, I have started responding with “I appreciate that. It’s the sort of thing I’ve gotten used to.” It seems to help the other person (who usually just assumed my dad was still alive based on my age, feels horrible in the moment for the error, and is probably just looking to escape any awkwardness) to realize that if it’s normal for me, it can be normal for them too. We usually move on at that point.

  34. MissDisplaced

    #1: If your coworkers really want to do this in order to “better understand each other’s work personalities” I’d suggest if they MUST do it, they do a Myers-Briggs or Caliper instead of the numerology/astrology. Though, I’d take either with a grain of salt (and I’ve done most of them).

    #2 Former manager: It probably is that she’s busy. However, realize that when some people leave a job, they honestly just like to put it behind them, even if they did forge good relationships. Instead of lunch, you might suggest coffee or even meeting at a professional event (if you both go to those). But keep you expectations about meeting up to a minimum and don’t take it personal. Your relationship might become more of a LinkedIn network type of thing, and that’s fine.

    Desk Sitters: I think you just need to be straightforward and ask them to “Please sit in the chair, thanks,” or “Please don’t lean on my desk, thanks.” A lot of people like to LEAN on the side of desks. They don’t mean to be rude, but uh, don’t realize they’re even doing it half the time (unless you have the overbearing boss who does it from a power perspective-because this can be a dominating behavior). But most do it without really thinking or meaning anything by it.
    It might help if you also stand when people come by your desk to talk. That way you’re taking the convo upwards (and you get to stand, which is good in most cases).

    1. valentine

      But most do it without really thinking or meaning anything by it.
      This is the worst bit. I prefer cruelty to thoughtlessness.

      1. I Took A Mint

        Really?? You would rather someone intentionally annoy you than annoy you by accident? That’s an unusual preference.

    2. Arctic

      Re # 1 I agree. Myers-Brigg may be about as useful as Astrology. But it’s unlikely to offend religious beliefs.
      And I would argue that with the right crew it can be a valuable team building exercise even if it’s junk science.

  35. GrayHat

    OP #1 – I think you might have better luck if you try to spin this into an actual productive conversation about how you want to work with others in your office. Something more like “I don’t need numerology to figure out my preferences for how others work with me – I’ve had a chance to figure that out through a lot of trial and error and am happy to tell you all the results! And of course I’m sure you all have preferences too, so maybe we should schedule a meeting to talk about those.” Just frame it as something like “don’t you already know how you want to be treated?” That way it won’t look like you don’t care about others’ working preferences, and you can sidestep the silliness of numerology.

  36. Lily Rowan

    OP3 — Alison is right that you should just ask people to sit in the chair, but I wonder if it might also help your peace of mind if you move the placemat OFF the desk? So then when you’re going to eat, you can put the clean placemat on top of your desk and eat on that.

  37. Asenath

    It’s interesting how personal reactions to desk-sitting vary. I don’t like it, but I think that’s largely because I see it as movement into my personal space; I feel crowded. I think any sanitation issues should be taken care of by the clothing. Either way, a pointed invitation to take a seat should take care of the situation.

    I knew someone once who despised cats as dirty unsanitary animals because they sat on things. Like kitchen counters!!! I had to confess that this issue hadn’t really bothered me much in all the years I’ve lived with cats!

    Anyway, it’s possible to train cats to keep off the kitchen counters while you are present. No bets on what happens when you’re not in sight, though. And in any case, human co-workers should be easier to train in this matter than cats are.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      When I prepare potluck food, cats go into “kitty jail” (my bedroom with the door closed), and the counters get cleaned before the food prep. But yeah, the cats on counters thing is pretty rampant. I admit I haven’t had people over for dinner since my grandcats started jumping on counters. I do understand people who wouldn’t eat at someone’s home because of that, though I myself probably would anyway (and probably have).

    2. Grapey

      I don’t think that’s unfair.

      I own a horde of cats myself but I always train them to stay off of tables/counters. (Yes, this is possible). If I don’t see a fellow cat owner making an effort to shoo their cats off counters/tables or if they’re the type to insist it’s cute and not a problem, I won’t eat food from them or invite them to my potlucks.

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        I’ve found it impossible to believe my cat stays off the counters when I’m not there, so I just never prepare food on the counter itself, always on a cutting board or something like that. (And to be honest, I think you might be overestimating your control over your horde of cats.)

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          The guy that I was dating when my two grandcats first started living with me, gave me a lot of advice on how to train the cats to stay off the counters. He’d had a horde of cats all his adult life (his ex-wife and he split their cattery evenly between them in the divorce, and he ended up with five – to paint you all a picture), and had two during the time he and I dated. The advice he gave me was, you catch a cat in the act, pick it up, hold it so the cat’s face is directly in front of yours, and tell it in a stern voice, “NO”. I tried, and got no results, unless you count two extremely amused cats :) Wasn’t until after he and I broke up that I realized that his dining room table, his office desk, every surface in his home was covered with cat hair. He was away from home for most of the day, so I imagine his cats had a wonderful time sitting on tables and counters while he was gone.

        2. DaffyDuck

          I agree that even if the cats NEVER get on the counter when you are in the room doesn’t mean they aren’t checking it out when you aren’t around. I really hate cats on counters and tables and work hard to train them to disallowed spaces. Perhaps if they have a physical disability/extreme advanced old age where they cannot jump would I believe they don’t get up there. I work in the room below my kitchen, I occasionally hear a thump of a cat jumping to the floor.

    3. AnotherKate

      Cats are “dirty and unsanitary” because they walk through an indoor poop garden and are then allowed on food prep spaces.

      Which is to say, it’s not the cat; it’s the humans that allow this..

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        I understand that. But the way Asenath quoted their friend, it sounded like “cats are unsanitary because they sit on kitchen counters,” which is the reverse of what is true.

  38. foolofgrace

    This may be way off base, but my first thought was, at the first pause in the person giving their condolences, to say “Sorry to interrupt, and I thank you so much for your sympathy, but I’m still a bit raw after the loss of my mom and it’s hard for me to talk about. I really do appreciate your kindness.”

    Alison’s suggestion to focus on work is better, probably, but this was my first thought.

    1. Asenath

      I’ve found that “thank you”, perhaps looking a bit upset, and then, as Alison suggested, immediately changing the subject of the conversation, works well. Most people take the hint. But none of my relatives are or were well-known outside their immediate circles, which limits the number of times this is necessary. It must be more difficult, and take more time for the “first meeting with the next of kin after a death” to occur for everyone when your late relative was very well known.

  39. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)

    It would be tempting to answer the numerology people with something like “I was born on Rajab 12” or “the eighteenth day of second Adar.”

    Or take a different approach and say something like “tdidn’t you know people use information like exact date of birth for identity theft.” (Yes, the bad guys probably need more than that, but it’s plausible that you might believe it–my doctors and local pharmacies will give me my partners’ prescriptions if I say “I’m picking up for so-and-so” and can give them that person’s birthday.)

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      I believe they use your date of birth to make sure they don’t confuse you with a different Gollux, not as an identify theft foil.

      1. SarahTheEntwife

        Yeah, assuming you know enough else about a person to be trying to pick up their prescriptions, birthdate is trivially easy to find.

  40. drpuma

    OP5, since you mention this is happening with clients, are they all one-on-one meetings? Do you have a coworker you trust who also attends client meetings who you could preemptively ask to change the subject for you, if it comes up? Alternately, if you work with repeat clients, maybe you could use the office busy-body tactic on the client side? I’m so sorry you are being pushed to manage other peoples’ feelings on top of your own.

  41. East of Nowhere South of Lost

    What is it with workplaces and woo-woo magical stuff? I realize black magic is a work hazard these days, but the frequency that this comes up is somewhat mind-boggling.

    1. Michaela Westen

      Looking for shortcuts so they won’t have to do the work of actually getting to know staff and evaluating/relating to them as individuals.
      I think it might be a new manifestation of the tendency of management to categorize people:
      All men are…
      All women are…
      All black people are…
      All brown people are…
      Around the mid-2000’s they started requiring college degrees for entry-level and staff positions – the positions hadn’t changed. What changed was they couldn’t get away with race and gender discrimination so they used degrees.
      Now degrees have become more common and less useful – as anyone in Econ 101 could have told them – so they’re looking for a new shortcut.
      All IMHO, I watched it happen.

  42. Anonymous in the South

    For #3- I am the same way. I don’t eat at my desk but I don’t like people using it as a seat/leaning on it. I tried a chair, I tried putting things in the way- you name it and I tried. I just finally starting saying to people I really don’t like people sitting/leaning on my desk, could you please use the chair? 99% of people respected the request. There’s always one, though, so when they come by, I make sure to shift/spin my chair in a way that makes it impossible to sit on my desk with sitting on me/tripping on my chair.

    Most of us are in cubicles, so even a person who weighs what is considered normal should not be sitting on the desks. I also used that to my advantage by privately speaking with the facility maintenance supervisor and asking him to remind people that our desks are not chairs/seats.

  43. Charlotte

    LW5: I’m in a very similar position and I promise you Alison’s advice is spot on. People take their cues from you. Most of them will feel awkward; they want to acknowledge what you’ve been through so they won’t appear cold-hearted, but most don’t actually want to talk about it either (disregarding the reminiscers for a second.) I’ve had great luck with “thank you, I appreciate that, so about XYZ.” That’s usually enough.

    For those people who want you to be the receptacle for their reminiscing and feels… I don’t know what to tell you about that. It baffles me when people do that. I’ve noticed a bit of a lack of self-awareness with these people and sometimes “thanks+subject change” just doesn’t cut it. Being blunt is often the only thing that helps. Again, Alison’s advice is spot on, and it’s what I’ve learned from experience too.

    I’ve not found a way to stop people from bringing it up out of nowhere, I only know that it fades with time. But you have my full sympathy. It’s so, so awful when you finally get into the groove of your day, getting your work done, and out of nowhere someone pipes up with “hey, remember how your loved one is gone? That’s sad.” It sucks so much. I work with a lot of young people and people on the spectrum (and a lot of overlap between the two groups) and it’s been a masterclass in learning how to say “yes, it’s sad, and I’m very sad too, so I don’t want to talk about it because it hurts.” Not recommended for neurotypical adults, but don’t rule out the idea that sometimes, that’s the level of bluntness required.

    But in 80% of all cases, I found that people simply want to acknowledge that they have sympathy for you without going into the details and are grateful for an out. “Thanks+subject change” will take care of most of it.

  44. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

    LW #5, I think this is a common (and sadly, not talked enough about!) part of grieving. And it makes you feel like a heartless monster, because of course they’re trying to be nice to you and they’re also grieving, but also oh god why can’t they stop. In my case, it was my best friend who died, and I was the one who found out about it first (even before her family), so I got a lot of condolences due to my close proximity to the death.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any good scripts to use, though I like Alison’s. I can say that while I felt pangs months afterward, it gets easier over time. I’ve gotten to the point where I can make jokes about some wacky aspects of the funeral, and reminders of her death don’t bother me nearly as much, and it’s only been about a year and a half since she died. And do try to take time for yourself: in my case, work was death-free but social media wasn’t, so I ended up doing a lot of work and not much Facebooking specifically so I could decompress from the gauntlet of reminders.

  45. Amber Rose

    #3, I had a coworker spill some coffee on my desk and then use his butt to wipe it up before I could even make a grab for a tissue. I understand the horror. I’m sorry you have to deal with it. You can absolutely ask people to not.

    #5, I have been there and done that. My mom was extremely well known in her industry and passed when I was 23. I got books on grieving from complete strangers. Most of the books were religious. I guess they cheered me up in that they made me laugh really hard at how awful and inappropriate they were.

    Aside from shutting down the conversations as fast as you can, my advice is to find humor wherever you can and a person who will laugh with you. It takes some of the edge off the exhaustion.

  46. Mrs_helm

    LW#2 may come from a company where there is a time constraint around raises. (You can’t get one if you’ve just received one within X months.) If that clears up for anyone why she’s thinking it was to prevent her adding for one.

    But there is sometimes a way around that: you can ask boss to change your title or level (depending on how your company works it). And to give you a raise associated with the new role.

    However, I do think 1 year is a little early. It feels like a long time when you’re doing the work, but to a company it just isn’t that long.

  47. AnonResearchManager

    #2 you may be “closer” to the mark than others realize…not that your boss is deliberately thwarting your efforts to get a raise, but this small bump may put you off for the rest of your fiscal year. Look into your company’s policy on raises, many will only give you a salary adjustment once per year, so if you accepted this small mid-year bump, you wouldn’t be eligible for another (larger, well-deserved) salary merit increase or cost of living adjustment until the next fiscal year.
    Companies often do this to head off larger raise requests as a cost saving measure (I don’t agree with it, but its a thing that happens). The best thing to do is be prepared to discuss the raise you want and negotiate at the time your boss brings up a raise. These are negotiable, no matter how rushed the conversation is or how it already seems like a done deal from your boss’s end.

    1. Scandinavian Visitor

      Or perhaps OP2 was making less than the bottom of the scale for this position, and it just came to someone’s notice. Maybe HR was looking over salary bands for 2019?

  48. BottleBlonde

    Ha! Same! I went a little nuts when I first moved to NYC after some of the horrors I witnessed on the subway in my first month (not typical, I love the subway and miss it greatly now that I’ve moved, but I had uncommonly bad luck those first few weeks). My pants were all designated as either “outside pants” or “apartment pants” after that – made me feel better about falling asleep on the couch, knowing it hadn’t been touched by subway pants!

    1. automaticdoor

      Yeah, everyone around here (DC area) takes public transit. There’s no way in hell I’d be allowing people to sit on my desk knowing their pants/skirts have been on Metro seats and bus seats that never get cleaned. For everyone who’s been commenting that they love to sit on desks… well, I think it’s very rude, especially if you’re moving people’s stuff “out of the way.” If it’s “not comfortable” to sit in a chair, as some commenters have been saying, then stand or book a conference space. It’s not always about you, especially if you’re in someone else’s space.

      1. Burned Out Supervisor

        Yeah, I don’t really get why sitting on a desk is more comfortable than a chair. Ostensibly, you’re not going to be at someone’s desk for a long time, so why wouldn’t you just sit in the chair (unless it’s one of those horrible metal chairs that you see at trendy restaurants)?

        1. Ice and Indigo

          It’s at a different height. Depending on the length of your length of your legs and the springiness of your knees, that might be preferable for some people.

          Note – this doesn’t mean I’m saying ‘Sit on the desks of unwilling colleagues’; just answering ‘why’.

          1. Burned Out Supervisor

            I guess, for me, comfort is more of an issue for my back. I dislike sitting on stools because I can’t lean back (I have a tendency to hunch over if there’s no back support). IMHO, if it’s an issue of having to get back up from a seated position, I’d take the safe way out and just not sit or lean.

            1. Ice and Indigo

              That assumes they don’t also have sore feet. If your knees hurt, it’s quite possible your feet do too.

  49. Argh!

    LW 5 — you didn’t mention whether some of the condolences have come in emails. You could set up a rule in Outlook that would send all emails with the word “mother” to a separate folder, and then decide on a time when you would check that folder. This would at least corral the email references to one part of your day.

    Another option is to set up a site where people can write their memories (some funeral homes hook into these). You could email the link to people, or add it to your signature line for awhile. You could also print out special business cards with that link to give to people who feel the need to discuss her. You could say “I wish you could say that to my whole family!” … and then give them the card. That could redirect them.

    Sudden loss is the hardest loss, in my experience. I’m glad to see that you’re owning your response and trying to move on with your life in your way. That seems very healthy.

  50. jcarnall

    Both my parents died in 2015. They were both locally connected. I do feel for you, LW3.

    I don’t think you can stop it before it starts, but the script I’d recommend is along the lines of “It’s difficult.” *brave smile* “Let’s talk about [something else].”

    (Or literally, “let’s talk about something else”.)

    The *brave smile* is crucial. No one wants to be in the position of making a mourner feel worse. They just don’t get that sometimes they are making you feel worse.

    “It’s difficult” sends the message that you had rather not talk about this, without blaming them for bringing it up. Say it often enough, and word will get round. This won’t help with the particularly pushy people (“I’ll be your surrogate mom” sounds particularly ghastly) but the people who genuinely want to make you feel better will hold off.

  51. Barefoot Librarian

    OP #1 – If your coworkers are fixated on understanding each other’s personalities in order to work better together then perhaps you could compromise with something a tad bit more scientific like a Myers–Briggs or Strengths Finder. I’ve worked places where both were strongly encouraged and, while still a bit silly, they at least felt more useful than randomly assigning personality traits based on when you were born.

    1. Barefoot Librarian

      Oops…a ton of people have already talked about this option. I just got through the comments! I don’t entirely disagree with the those who think they aren’t much better as it forces people into little categories that might actually hurt as much as help interactions. At least these options collect actual data instead of making assumptions based on numerology or astrology though.

    2. Van Wilder

      Came here to say the same thing. One of those 4-quadrant personality thingies. At least somewhat based in reality and your coworkers might still get the same bonding/enjoyment out of it.

  52. nonymous

    Even assuming that the food prep surfaces are sanitized before use, my assumption is that the fur/dander floating around (or on the person’s clothes!) will make it’s way into the food. At least that’s how it works with dog fur in my home, but I don’t bring food for potlucks.

    1. nonymous

      wow. so much nesting fail. This should have been in the thread about cats contaminating food prep.

  53. ShortT

    Silently pray that the desk-sitter hasn’t recently consumed Alli with a fatty meal. Then , politely ask the desk-sitter to please not sit on your desk.

  54. Free Meerkats

    For the desk sitters, it’s time to get a Breaking Cat News “Plant of Many Teeth” and park it in the convenient sitting spot.

  55. OP5

    OP5 here. I want to thank you all sincerely for your comments. I realize this isn’t exactly a problem with a comfortable solution, but it means so much to me just to see others recognize that. I’m sorry that so many of you have been in the same position, but it’s heartening to feel less alone.

  56. Gramsas

    Seconding the idea of a “boundary enforcing” plant. (And happy to see another BCN fan!)

  57. TeapotNinja

    OP3: Put something that can’t withstand a weight of a person on the floor directly below the “sitting” area. That way the uninvited sitters can’t maneuver themselves onto the desk in the first place. It also needs to be big enough so that they can’t hang their legs on top of or over.

  58. DreamBig,StartSmall

    In regards to the lady having problems with work clients and their continued condolences, I was/still am in the same boat. I lost my mother to cancer back when I was twelve (now coming up to my 24th birthday) and it was difficult because I was still in school.
    The worst part was that it was announced during a full school assembly, perhaps a day after I was told (we hadn’t even had the funeral) so I had to field around 1,000+ unwanted/unsolicited condolences whilst still grieving.
    High school bullying was also a major factor (All girl schools are full of sharks and the cancer my mum had was compared to a list of STDs/STIs)

    Easiest way I found was similar to Alison’s reply, a quick but polite full shut down. I used to and still do say “Its difficult to talk about so I’d rather focus on work and remember her life, not her death, in my own time.”

  59. fogharty

    LW#5: my dad died March 7th of this year, so it’s pretty raw still. I find I can cope at work as long as I don’t talk about it, and that’s what I said/say to their questions of “How are you?” “I’m tired mostly, but I’m fine as long as I don’t talk about it.”

    I’m sorry for your loss, and hope you are doing well.

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