my employee identifies proudly as a grump

A reader writes:

I manage a small team of creative people and we all have different work styles (as defined during a company-wide professional growth workshop.)

One team member has so strongly identified with her more aggressive and direct work style that I find she is using it as a crutch to excuse bad behavior like having a negative attitude about her work or being short or dismissive of coworkers. “Well, that’s just me. I’m a grump, everyone knows that’s my work style!” she’ll say in a light-hearted way.

We have a casual workplace and I’m friendly with my employees, but I’m finding it difficult to guide her to be more positive without it coming across like, “Don’t be yourself!” or like I’m critiquing her personality instead of it being about a work issue.

I have tried to curb this behavior by saying, “No, we don’t see you that way” when she self identifies with that “everyone knows” kind of language as being a negative person/grumpy/”bad with people.” I’ve praised her when she handles situations the way I would expect (with a collaborative spirit and openness).

My biggest concern is how this is impacting her work and how she interacts with the rest of the team. She has expressed interest to me in being promoted and taking on more responsibility with more creative freedom, but when I have brought opportunities to her to take ownership and have more space for creativity, she has reacted negatively both through her body language (literally frowning and scowling in meetings) and through her commentary (“Ugh, this is just asking a lot” and a lot of self doubt and generally defeatist attitude).

I want her to feel supported and I don’t want her to feel like I’m picking on her for what she has embraced as a personality trait but I’m hitting a wall.

“That’s just me!” is not a get-of-out-jail-free card for any and all negative traits.

If someone tried to explain away their sexual harassment of a coworker or their extreme inability to get along with clients as “that’s just me!” I’m guessing that you’d deal with it directly and decisively, not worry about wanting them to feel supported. It’s the same thing here.

You’re feeling hesitant and like you’re hitting a wall because you’re looking at this as a personality trait, but her work style/personality/whatever you want to call it affects her work and her relationships with coworkers. It’s just as much your business as an issue with her actual work product would be, and you have the same standing to tell her it’s not acceptable and needs to change. You have the same standing to expect/require her to be reasonably pleasant to coworkers as you do to expect/require her to meet deadlines. You just need to articulate it as part of the job.

It’s reasonable to say, “I need someone in this role who can maintain good relationships with colleagues” or “who can approach new ideas with a sense of possibility rather than shutting them down” or so forth. And it’s reasonable to say, “When you’re short with people, like you were with Bob in today’s meeting, people will start going around you for help. If people are afraid to approach you, you can’t be effective in your role here.”

That’s not picking on her or critiquing her personality. That’s laying out clear expectations for what she needs to do to succeed in her job.

You’ve been hinting at this, by pushing back when she calls herself a grump or praising her when she’s not a grump. But you need to tackle it more head-on, with a sit-down conversation framed as “I’ve noticed you frequently say that you’re grumpy or not good with people. I don’t believe that’s true, but more importantly, those aren’t things you can be in this job. You can feel however you want on the inside, but externally I need you to ____ (not be dismissive to coworkers/be open to new projects rather than scowling and shooting them down/etc.).”

You should also say, “You’ve expressed interest in being promoted and taking on more responsibility with more creative freedom, but when I’ve given you opportunities to take ownership and have more space for creativity, you’ve reacted negatively. (Give a couple of examples here.) If that’s a path you want to pursue, I need you to show you’re open to those opportunities and enthused about taking them on. I can’t consider giving you more responsibility if you push back against it when I try to.” I’d also talk here about what that would look like, because she genuinely might not be able to envision it. (And if there are times when she’s done this well, cite those.)

You should also specifically name the other behavior that’s holding her back — her tendency to attribute toxic behaviors to “that’s just who I am.” You could say, “I’ve heard you say that your work style is ‘grump’ and while that was funny the first time you said it, it’s not something that is actually okay to live out here. You need to get along with coworkers and you need to be reasonably pleasant and easy to work with, and it’s not okay to opt out of that or to explain it as ‘work style,’ just like your work style couldn’t be ‘missing deadlines’ or ‘alienating clients.’”

You might also show her this article by the great Marshall Goldmith called “An Excessive Need to Be Me,” where he points out that a rigid allegiance to “being yourself” can sometimes be pointless vanity — and at odds with actually benefitting yourself and the people around you.

But tackle this like you would any other problem with her work. Don’t get thrown off by the fact that she’s presenting this as who she is rather than how she behaves.

{ 404 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    If someone tried to explain away their sexual harassment of a coworker or their extreme inability to get along with clients as “that’s just me!” I’m guessing that you’d deal with it directly and decisively, not worry about wanting them to feel supported.

    “Grumps will be grumps”?

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      By which I mean I’m glad that as a society we’re moving past excusing sexual harassers with “oh that’s just how he is.”

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Yup, I knew abusers who try to excuse their cruelty/etc with “this is who I am.” Even if that were true…make that *not* who you are then! Be something better!

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Early kn Husband said “I’m just grouchy when I wake up.” I said, Ok fine. Feel grouchy. You are not however allowed to be grouchy at me.” Thirteen years on, I know he’s not feeling it but he’s not a dick yo me in the mornings.

          Like Alison said, it’s about how one behaves. If I had an employee who was like this for any length of time, they’d soon be an ex employee.

    2. Cedarthea*

      I read that line in the style of Taylor Swift … “players gonna play” or “grumps gonna grump”.

      But agree that it’s great that the idea of “X gonna X” going away is a good thing.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, I took the Buzzfeed test and it turns out my work style is “embezzler” and my patronus is a moose. So, uh… don’t lock me up, your honor, members of the jury? Mooses gotta be free!

      2. JustaTech*

        My dad had a coworker (senior guy) who was like this. Kept trying to brush off his blatant sexual harassment as “personality type” and “cultural differences”. Dude, no. Just no.
        He cost their firm so much time and money.

    3. ten-four*

      I mean, Joe Biden LITERALLY TODAY released a non-apology video explaining that getting up in women’s personal space is “just who I am” and plenty of people are fine with that. I sympathize with OP; the “that’s just me!” argument carries a lot of weight in our culture.

      1. Safetykats*

        Yeah, I thought of this immediately – because “I’m a grump!” isn’t that different from the “I’m a hugger!” defense. At some point, you have to recognize that this isn’t about you – it’s about how your behavior impacts others. Joe needs to quit hugging strangers who have invited a hug, and OP needs to quit treating people badly for no reason.

    4. SebbyGrrl*

      Boss/Company gave them that training as a tool – an aid in doing their work.

      She is taking something proactive and using it as a denial cudgel/shield.

      You need her to use it proactively to achieve things not avoid them/

  2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    “we all have different work styles (as defined during a company-wide professional growth workshop.)”

    Talk about the law of unintended consequences.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Probably as a grump. She just decided to latch on to the work style thing hoping her supervisor wouldn’t push back on it because she was using the language and tools the supervisor had invested in.

        … Speaking from experience.

        1. JuliaPancakes*

          As a person who has been the creative type and also managed creative types, I get that you have to have a wider definition of what is acceptable.

          But if she gets to be a “tell like it is” person, than she also has to be a “hears it like it is” person that accepts the real consequences of relating to people the way she does.

          Honestly, OP, you’ve given her chances to take on more responsibility, and you got your response when she reacted negatively. Many bosses would kind of leave it at that. If you want to address it further, I think Allison laid out the path perfectly. (Funny how the answer to so many problems is just be direct and have the uncomfortable conversation that you don’t want to have.)

          It’s funny, how this employee talks also reminds me of how people with depression and anxiety sometimes talk about themselves: They say “It’s just who I am,” meaning the depression/anxeity and their personality are one and the same. I struggle with those issues myself, and I’ve said it too. But through therapy and life experience, I’ve learned that those feelings are not my personality. I don’t know if that’s relevant – just the first thing that came to my mind.

        2. Kuododi*

          I have an in-law who positioned herself as the *tell it like it is* and the *not even the boss tells me what to do* person. Frankly it struck me that was her default position to justify being rude to everyone she worked with throughout her employment. (She was never able to understand why she had such trouble holding on to employment. Go figure!!!)

          1. T*

            This. I have an in-law who behaves the same way, she’s horribly rude and brazen/yells a lot for no reason. Her family is so used to it they just shrug and say that’s how she is. She behaved this way in front of her brother in law and he started a huge rumor she was having marriage problems and was heading for a divorce. She’s also never been able to hold down a job for much longer than two months. She makes no connection with any of these issues to her behavior.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Remember the letter about the team that had to go through training to find out what animal they were? Oh, he’s a monkey, so he can’t meet deadlines. Oh she’s an emu or some crap that can only go fast in a straight line so she can’t have multiple projects. That turned out well.

      1. BookishMiss*

        I had to do the MBTI as part of a last ditch effort to rescue my team. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. I have SO much empathy for anyone who has to do anything similar.

        I’ve also worked with someone whose dreadful behavior was dismissed as “that’s just her way,” until I responded in kind. It was a very dysfunctional workplace and I certainly don’t think I handled it ideally, but she at least stopped being atrocious to me.

          1. BookishMiss*

            I never heard a peep about it. She just stopped being awful at me, after 3 days or so of radio silence. It was great.

        1. Artemesia*

          This is a common excuse within families to dismiss holding abusers accountable. ‘oh that is just how she is’ — well. I don’t put up with crap; that’s just how I am. She can have a work style of alienating co-workers and being unpleasant and you can have zero tolerance for that because that’s just the way you are as manager.

          1. BookishMiss*

            Friend groups, too. It’s part of the whole non-confrontation thing that’s socialized into us, and it sucks. My manager did jack, so I just returned grouchy for grouchy once and that was it.

        1. WellRed*

          Wait, wasn’t there also an astrology letter recently? This letter is an example of this sort of team building (or whatever you want to call it) going awry.

    2. CB212*

      Did… did the professional growth workshop actually identify her type as “grump”, as though that’s a legit role to fill in the office????

        1. Sarah M Thomas*

          I bet it was DiSC, and I bet she was identified as a D. My office called me a Slytherin for a month after we did ours.

          If I’m right, the nice thing about Ds is that they really like feedback other types would construe as blunt or uncaring. So this boss can probably say, “well you need to ungrump now and (whatever)” and it will be fine.

          1. Venus*

            I don’t know about DiSC, but this seems as good a place as any to make my comment:
            I work with a bunch of people who can be blunt, and some view that as being negative. Yet it isn’t! I think bluntness (and a bit of introversion) is a fair ‘This is me and my work style”. The key is to be a positive person who is blunt. I think it’s fair to approach her with a ‘you can be blunt, and you can be an introvert, but you have to be nice to others’ point of view.

            1. Artemesia*

              There is some truth in work styles and types — even the MB or various versions of this type thing can be helpful when you are looking at the ways in which people with different tendencies or approaches bring different strengths to the table. A person who is a great idea generator is important just as is a person who plans the work and works the plan. Teams need both types and appreciating the annoying person with ideas and questions who never seems to get on with it if you are productivity focused may help you avoid getting it done fast and getting it wrong. Appreciating difference is functional. Using this sort of style thing to excuse ineffectiveness, is dysfunctional.

              1. Emily K*

                Yep, we did one in my department several years ago and it was actually really helpful. I learned, for instance, that our data analysts wished that when they did some analysis to help us make a decision, they would hear more about how the decision went and if it helped us do our jobs better. They were all fairly introverted types and work in a different physical location, so without the water cooler/happy hour, they never really heard how things turned out and it never occurred to us to tell them since they didn’t usually need to know for any specific work reason.

                We also learned which people on our team have a driving style and are usually laser focused on next steps, while other people are more interested in building consensus or analyzing minute details, so now we try to balance out ad hoc project teams to have all the types represented and nothing gets overlooked that someone who cared more about that not happening could have prevented.

                None of the work styles/types involved license to be rude, stubborn, or difficult.

            2. Avocado Toast*

              When I did DiSC a few years ago with a group of people, this was my FAVORITE:

              Trainer: “You need a balance of different types of folks in any group in order to get the best result. For example, a group with only Ds would have a hard time getting anything accomplished.”
              Person who identified as a D interrupts: “Now, I have to disagree with that.”

            3. Dragoning*

              I am naturally both very blunt and very introverted (my friend introduced me to a complete stranger once as “This is Dragoning, ze’s very honest.”,) and while I do my best to mellow that, especially at work, I can’t.

              But that doesn’t mean people avoid me because I complain all the time. When work comes, even if it’s a sucky situation or we’re overloaded, I’m like “okay,” ask what the plan is, and get to work.

              Being blunt doesn’t mean I’m unpleasant to work with.

            4. Susan*

              Oh yes. I am a project manager who works with a variety of managers, and one of them is very blunt. I love him so much – because I tend to be word-y and at times not as straightforward, and have no clue that people aren’t following me. He at times has been blunt – in a good way! – about letting me know that he doesn’t follow. So great. We balance each other out.

          2. Minocho*

            We did one of these, but it was a free self evaluation where the final “answer” was obvious from each choice made.

            Many men ended up with a “D.

            I found it spectacularly useless.

          3. JJ Bittenbinder*

            We did DiSC at my last job and part of the session was a 5-minute video with actors portraying the 4 preferences. As is typical of training videos, it was so overdone and each of the characters played their type to the extreme. The D guy was especially hilarious.

            I actually enjoy sessions like that, while also giving them zero credence as being evidence-based or applicable, well, anywhere. Still, I’m that rare person who finds them an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours.

            1. Dragoning*

              I love personality tests!

              I’m never going to use one to try to explain away my faults.

          4. BRR*

            The feedback comment is really interesting. I’ve met a lot of blunt, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing, people and they can be talked to in a blunt manner. I know some people who can dish it but can’t take it but it might be easier for the LW to deliver feedback to this person compared to others.

            1. Olivia Mansfield (formerly Mallory Janis Ian)*

              I’ve known blunt people who can dish but not take it, and people who are just blunt an unperturbed by bluntness in return. I’m usually pretty circumspect when I don’t know people, but there are certain people that I’m in mutual agreements that we can be blunt with each other.

              1. Former Young Lady*

                Yeah, I think claims of “authenticity” evaporate when the person who prides themselves on brutal honesty can’t hear feedback like “your behavior is alienating others and you are on a fast train to loneliness and joblessness.” If all outgoing messaging is negative, but only positive feedback is allowed in, what they value isn’t “truth” so much as a double standard in their own favor.

                The mutually-blunt covenant, by contrast, takes time and careful consideration to cultivate. It’s a kind of intimacy. Healthy intimacy has to be earned, and it can’t be unilateral.

                1. Traffic_Spiral*

                  Yup. “Blunt” as in “actually tell me exactly what you want?” Yes. Great, please – you’ll save us both a lot of time and stress.” “Blunt” as in “I’m your verbal stress ball for whenever something’s not right,” or “I can’t be bothered to use basic courtesy,” and you can take a hike.

                  “Asshole” is not a legitimate managing style.

              2. Parenthetically*

                Yep. I posted something to this effect on FB a few months ago — that a lot of people who say “I’m just really honest” are using it as a cover for being a jerk to people and demanding they not face consequences — and wouldn’t you know, suddenly I found myself in an intense debate with someone who considers himself “brutally honest” and a “free thinker” and “not bound by convention” i.e., a total douchebag. He was instantly offended, wanted to push back against everything I’d said, and just plain couldn’t take the critique I was leveling at him.

                1. Sammie*

                  I actively side-eye anyone now who finds a reason to tell me ‘I’m just a really honest person’ or ‘I just tell it like it is’. Now, this may be the trauma talking, but my experience has been that for these people the honesty is only allowed to go one way. This can probably be applied to almost any trait, but if you have to say it, you’re probably not it. Truly honest people act that way as a matter of course – the statement is almost always unnecessary.

            2. Alianora*

              The best manager I’ve had was very blunt. It took me a while to get used to her, but the reason I liked working with her so much was that she was very blunt and straightforward about everything. You always knew exactly where you stood with her, and she gave lots of positive feedback too! And I felt much more comfortable being honest with her as a result.

              Plenty of people say they’re blunt or brutally honest, but they’re just using their bluntness as an excuse to be rude. If they were really being honest and unfiltered, they’d have nice things to say too, and they’d appreciate honesty from others.

              1. Iconoclast in California*


                “Blunt” or “direct” people say nice things too, like “You handled that teapot problem well”, “Good catch on the llama issue.”, “$person know what they are doing on teapots.”, “Perfect. Your solution for shoveling out llama stalls works great.”

            3. PhyllisB*

              Yep. I have a SIL who prides herself in “telling it like it is” Ex: Showed her a portrait my husband and I had made. Her response: “God!! Where did you get that dress?” When I was offended, she shrugged and said, “I just tell it like it is!!” But don’t DARE try to be blunt with her; she dissolves into a puddle of hurt tears.
              BTW: In later years when I looked at that photo I had to agree with her assessment of the dress, but at the time it was extremely stylish and I thought I looked pretty so I really thought this was unnecessary.

          5. Sara without an H*

            I’m not familiar with DiSC, but I’ve survived several other “personal growth” workshops (not voluntarily) and I’ve found them about as useful as the astrology column in my local newspaper.

          6. OriginalPoster*

            Ding, ding, ding!

            You’re right on both counts. I recently had a much more direct conversation with her and she appreciated me being candid about her need to “ungrump”.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              That’s funny — all the Ds at my job were super psyched about it, saw themselves as winners, and self-identify as the Most Effective.

      1. DiscoCat*

        But how can a personality trait such as a tendency to grumpy moods as a daily default qualify as a working style? And how does being grumpy equate to beig a “tell it as it is” person? I’m direct and hate white lies, but I still use tone of voice, body language and pay attention to the other person’s reaction when delivering my direct message.
        With regards to moods, depending on how much/ little I sleep my mood can range from happy, balanced over silly high spirits to tired and grumpy/irritable/ cynical. And you know what? I do make an effort as an adult to curb the spikes so that I don’t bounce like a weird mood ball off the walls and make it my colleagues’ problem.

    3. LilyP*

      Yeah it seems like the professional *growth* workshop is missing some key steps if it didn’t make it clear that the real point of identifying weaknesses is so you can work on improving them or get extra coaching, not so you can accept them as immutable personality traits that your force your coworkers to deal with forevermore.

      1. I'm the Blue Marble*

        I did one of those workshops based on “animal types.” I didn’t get it at all and the funny part was over the next few years my boss would periodically reference the workshop and ask me what animal “type” I was. I seriously could never remember so would just make up any animal. My favorite was The Manatee.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          I had one of those workshops too. I think I was an Owl, whatever the heck that meant. And I cringed when the lone big Black guy in the group was labeled a Chimpanzee.

      2. Daphne Castle*

        Amen. We did one that also included a section on communication/working styles and another on thinking preferences, with the idea that teams would be grouped more diversely so you don’t just have one thinking preference in a team. I scored low on one aspect of thinking preference that had to do with organization and structure, which I admit was a weakness, but after a while I didn’t like putting the results up on my desk because boss was, “Oh, that’s why you have a hard time with Gantt charts and multitasking,” and “Look at how low Daphne’s score is in that area!” Maybe it would’ve been better if we worked on a plan to help me succeed in those areas? I don’t know. But it made me feel like that trait was an unchangeable part of me instead of a part of my life that I just needed to exercise more frequently.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s certainly possible the professional development workshop didn’t hammer home the point that there’s a difference between “different work styles” and “counterproductive work styles”. I’ve done DISC, MBTI, some sort of color-based one, and more, and every single facilitator has hit on the whole, these are PREFERENCES/TENDENCIES and not immutable things that you should never change to be more productive at work. (For instance, I’m 98% introvert, but my job invovolves tons and tons of interacting with people. Am I wiped when I head out of the day? YES. Do I get to tell my boss that I’m an introvert and can’t meet with her because I’m peopled-out for the day? NO. ) Or the fact that some differences yin/yang and some differences are like a match to tinder, and, for the latter, since we are all grownups here, you can’t set something on fire because you don’t like someone/something.

      Honestly, and I’m sure I’ve said this here about a thousand times, the longer I do this, the more I will take the just above average performer who gets on well with others over the exceptional individual performer who can’t get along with anyone.

      And, if you can’t manage to be cordial and professional just because it’s the right thing to do, at least go Machiavellian and understand that if you’re nice to Guacamole Bob and ask about his twin schnoodles, maybe he might approve your egregious guacamole purchases on occasion.

    5. SebbyGrrl*


      Oops I posted this above instead of here…

      Boss/Company gave them that training as a tool – an aid in doing their work.

      She is taking something proactive and using it as a denial cudgel/shield.

      You need her to use it proactively to achieve things not avoid being a good employee or to pushback on her JOB.

  3. Rainy*

    “I just tell it like it is!” probably.

    Incidentally, it’s disappointing and infuriating but I have seen “that’s just who I am!” used as a reason for sexually harassing coworkers or clients, and a lot of managers react pretty much the same as LW is to their report.

    1. Busy*

      Yep, they do.

      I think its so cool that at my male dominated company, HR is doing a massive harassment training workshop. As in, hours log, in small groups, and all employees must do it. And why? Because over the past year, multiple dudes have done some really questionable things, and managers were sweeping it under the rug or not dealing with it – cuz that was the old culture. It is cool to see them sending a new message!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “I’m a hugger! Imma hug you even though you say you don’t like hugsssssssss!”


      1. Snark*

        I’m a nose rubber! Imma rub noses with you even though you say you don’t like nose rubs!

        Too soon? Too topical?

        1. Rainy*

          Like, that doesn’t even work for our puppy. We’re not a face lick family, and at the puppy’s 3 month review I’m going to have to have a talk with him.

          1. Shark Whisperer*

            Your comment really makes me want to hear everyone’s performance reviews of their pets on Friday’s open thread. One of my dogs would definitely not do well. She put her back feet directly on my face last night as I was sleeping. She was almost fired from her nighttime cuddle duties.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              Yessssssssssss let’s do thissssss!

              Also I LOVE getting doggie smooches, but my dog is not a face-licker by nature (she likes to lick your arms and legs as part of her going-sleep-routine, which leaves everyone smelling like the pier at low tide). So now if I bend down and go “give mama a kiss!” she runs up and sort of mashes her muzzle into my face.

              Our other, much smaller dogs, prefers you to lie down on the floor so your head is lower than hers and she can dance around your face and give you lots of tiny little flickery kisses.

            2. Rosie M. Banks*

              Cat, you are a valuable member of the household, and I particularly appreciate how loud you can purr. But I need you to stop putting your paws in my mouth when I am sleeping. Do you think you can do that?

              1. CommanderBanana*

                Our main point of contention is the smaller one’s shaky grasp on potty training and the tendency to run under her much larger sister while her sister is peeing, therefore getting peed on and having to get the hated bath, and the larger one’s constant thievery of whatever her sister is playing with despite having SO MANY TOYS. Also her tendency to chew on non-toy items when she feels she isn’t getting sufficient attention.

              2. Lance*

                Oh, the toy (and everything else) thefts. ‘If it’s hers, then I want it!’ seems to be what it boils down to, for both of my two little dogs (which means we have to watch them when we feed them, because they have different foods currently).

              3. Asenath*

                While your performance as a Mobile Furry Heating Pad is generally excellent, you need to work on your positioning. Placing your butt in the line of sight between human eyes and the TV is not really optimal positioning.

              4. Not So NewReader*

                I had a dog who used to run his nose along the edge of the bed until he hit a body part- foot knee, elbow- to indicate he had to go out. That stopped after one particular night where I must have curled around in my sleep. The first thing he came to was my nose. I woke up to find his nostrils right up against mine and he was taking all my air with his huge nostrils. That never happened again. He was good at self-correction.

              5. CommanderBanana*

                The small one also was jumping around on the bed and jumped directly onto my partner’s, um, sensitive bits. He was mostly asleep and made a high-pitched squeak/shriek noise.

              6. RUKiddingMe*

                And stop tasting me! Seriously I have three (of five) that will periodically take just a couple licks…like sampling me. It’s starting to freak me out.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Or heard about it on the radio or saw commercials. I didn’t even HAVE a TV for decades and I I knew more than I wanted to from the morning DJs.

            3. Seeking Second Childhood*

              It’s going to be hard for me to not start now, even if it’s old stories.

            4. Iconoclast in California*


              Cat, I need you to stop kneading my chest in tender areas when you climb on me. I am getting blood spots on my shirts.

      2. Mimi Me*

        I’ve mentioned it before, but I once stopped watching a pretty interesting documentary about living a minimalist life because the two guys who were the focus of the documentary kept saying “I’m a hugger” before invading the personal space of every person they met. It made me so angry especially when the facial expressions of those being hugged looked so uncomfortable.

        1. MayLou*

          I met someone at a friend’s wedding who identified as a hugger. I tolerated the first hug, resisted the second (including using my words – “I don’t really want to hug”), and recoiled from the third, with a much more assertive “NO”. I was astounded that it took so much before he got the message – this was someone who is part of a very socially-conscious (not quite the right term but it’s the closest I’ve got) group with a lot of people who are poly, disabled, queer, any combination of the above, and much more on it with consent and bodily autonomy than the average. Either no one had called him out before, or he was just ignoring it. I suspect the former, because the friend who was getting married does not put up with any shit, and wouldn’t have invited someone who she knew had overstepped someone’s boundaries.

    3. softcastle mccormick*

      Sigh, yep. Chronic oversharing coworker is like that. When describing her sex life in graphic detail, I often go, “Oh man, TMI!” to which I unfailingly get, “Haha, that’s just who I am! You know me!”

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Ugh. I was thinking last week that the 2 people I work most closely with in my regional office are so quiet and I don’t have enough social interaction (I’m an extrovert), but I read your comment and immediately revised that.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s the definition of a hostile work environment, that’s just as much sexual harassment as touching someone. I’m being serious, she’s putting the place in legal hot water if the sex talk continues.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Her: “That is who I am…”
        Me: “Dense? You do realize you are saying you are dense, right?”

    4. GreenBoat*

      I was sexually harassed at work a few years ago and HR’s initial explanation was that the guy was just a a really friendly guy and being super friendly to everyone was just the kind of person he was. I seriously doubt he was grabbing guys and following them around and commenting on their bodies and asking them intimate questions and getting upset about their relationship status. I guess some people still think harassment is “friendly” as long as it’s only directed at a woman. -_-

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        I commented elsewhere, but my harasser’s boss said, “Oh, Walter*’s just a good ol’ boy. You know how those types are.”

        Yeah, and I also know that he’s disgusting and a perv and that I go to my car at lunchtime every day and cry. Still going to demand we do something about it.

        I’m sorry that happened to you as well.

        *names have not been changed because why protect the jerk??!

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          “*names have not been changed because why protect the jerk??!”

          My most favorite comment ever!

      2. Elspeth*

        Wow! Do you still work there? I mean, I’m just sputtering here on your behalf about HR’s egregious abdication of their duty to handle harassment issues properly. Jeez.

      3. Watry*

        Initial explanation? Does that mean they changed their minds? Please tell me that means they changed their minds.

    5. Teapot Librarian*

      I have one of those in my office! Thankfully (knock wood) he has been better since I told him that honesty is not an excuse for rudeness, and he has to figure out a more professional way to communicate. I mean, his communication since then has not been much more professional, but it’s been much more subtly rude.

  4. No Mercy Percy*

    I can relate to identifying as a grump, but this person takes it such an extreme! I may not like some of my co-workers, and they make me feel grumpy, but I can at least manage basic civility and professionalism.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I’m grumpy as hell, but that doesn’t mean I get to be rude and unhelpful at work.

          1. BookishMiss*

            =) sadly, I do not have a pet inch worm.
            People at work think I’m friendly and upbeat – because, at work, I’m at minimum polite and sociable. I just have a lot of Maleficent and Eeyore desk decor.

        1. Busy*

          My partner tells me that grumpiness is my passion and worrying is my hobby. My close coworkers call me grumpy. But what I am grumpy about is usually funny not work things and my bosses and others would never refer to me as “grumpy”.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Yeah. If I’m in a bad mood, I take pains to keep my coworkers and customers from knowing about it. It’s not their fault, so they shouldn’t have to be on the receiving end.

          1. BookishMiss*

            Yep, and if something overrides the pleasant employee/coworker mode, I take a break.

        3. Elizabeth*

          I am, by nature, Eeyore. I worry about the outcome of everything and am constantly playing 3-D chess in terms of how to not have the worst possible outcome occur. A colleague & good friend is as well.

          We’re not Oscar’s, and we’re not Chicken Little’s. Just because we can see the problems clearly and plan for avoiding them does not mean that we have to make everyone around us miserable to deal with them, and we aren’t imagining the problems. My friend got offended when I called him Eeyore once, until I reminded him that Eeyore isn’t over-stating the problem, he’s just seeing the worst possible end result and articulating it.

          1. Susan*

            I’m a project manager, and my fellow project manager and I have been called Cassandra – because we actually let people know that all their big ideas can’t happen at once – or at all.

        4. Seeking Second Childhood*

          At times I’m a Disney dwarf level of Grumpy, but I’m POLITE about it. It is possible. I grumble about myself, to myself, and deliver what is needed.
          (If it turns out that it’s NOT needed after you made me do work, or that you gave me a tight deadline and didn’t open the email for 3 weeks, or it’s needed only because you didn’t take suggestions from my department 3 months ago? That’s when others will hear my grumbling too.)

    2. Washi*

      I don’t want to derail, but I’ve worked with people who felt very strongly that being expected to act pleasant (like a normal level of pleasant, not grinning maniacally at everything) when they were having a bad day was expecting them to be “fake” and therefore completely unreasonable. Which I don’t really get, since I have no trouble pretending everything is fine, even when it’s not, maybe to a fault.

      This has left me unsure of what’s normal. Is it ever ok to be a little abrupt with a colleague? Should one always apologize afterward? Should managers generally be paying attention to these dynamics and speaking to an employee if they are consistently being short with their coworkers?

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Oh no. You can’t be fake! The world would fall to pieces if someone having a bad day replied “Thank you” to the server bringing coffee. Could you imagine? The stock market would crash; locusts would fall upon us. And at work? God forbid. If I’m tired or had a fight with my friend, I can’t put that aside and work with a colleague. Gotta keep it real or the rivers will turn to dust and the earth will open beneath our feet.

        1. brighidg*

          IKR? Thank god grown mature adults don’t need to be coddled and can understand that not everyone wants to cosplay Pollyanna 24/7.

          1. Observer*

            Thank heavens that real grown mature adults happen to know that just because they are having a bad day, they don’t get to dump that on others. No one needs or even wants a Pollyanna – those people tend to be highly annoying. But claiming that common courtesy and adult behavior is nothing different that Pollyannish behavior is disingenuous, at best.

          2. Traffic_Spiral*

            I agree. That’s why I never bathe or use deodorant – it’s so fake! I’m just keeping my smell real. It’s just who I am.

      2. bikes*

        I have managed people who have insisted that they have to ‘be real’ / ‘refuse to be anything less than 100% authentic.’ I suggested that being polite and pleasant at work is important because it contributes to valuable work getting done more effectively. A circular ‘I can’t be anything other than myself, that would be fake’ chain of logic ensued.

        I think the column Alison recommended could be a great starting point for discussion but I’d love to hear even more about this. People can be so stubborn about the value of their negativity.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The framing is “if your real self is rude to other people, then yes, you can’t be real at work. In this job, you need to be pleasant to coworkers and not alienate people so that they avoid working with you. If that’s not something you can do, you can’t be effective in your role. So give it some thought and figure out if you’re up for staying in a role that requires it.”

          1. OriginalPoster*

            Yes, I think the “being real” aspect is definitely a part of it in this case. The framework of, “I need someone in this role to be able to pleasantly interact with coworkers” is useful. Thank you.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              “We didn’t hire you to be YOU. We hired you to be a person who is pleasant to customers and coworkers. We understand this is not anything you choose to do on your own. That’s why we pay you to do it.”

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                I literally laughed out loud at this. I give myself the ol’ Don Draper, “That’s what the money is for!” speech all the time. :)

          2. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yup. or for short:

            “But that’s the real me!”
            “Then the real you sucks.”

            “But that’s the real me!”
            “Then the real you is also unemployed.”

          3. bikes*

            Your script is great; I wish I could have said that. I work in a touchy-feely human services field and several of the orgs I have worked for have an extremely strong preference for not firing anyone under any circumstance (with the exception of theft or harassment). My “grumps” have also been poor performers but all I could do was speak to them about what needed improvement and document document document.

            I guess my real question is how can you suss out an organization’s policy about handling people with toxic attitudes and/or poor performance at the interview and/or job offer stage? It’s extremely vital when you are serving people from disenfranchised communities to work as hard as you possibly can and be as supportive and positive as you can with your team. It baffles me that it is taboo to fire someone who is pulling down a whole team of people who have the potential to make positive outcomes for whole communities. If I was selling socks I’d be happy to play the “I’m an anthropologist observing unusual behavior” game but my field is too high stakes.

        2. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Yeah, people can be oddly defensive about their right to be rude under the guise of “authenticity.” It’s difficult to break them of that logic, because it’s not truly logic. It’s a steadfastly-held opinion that typically requires doing the “this is what I need you to do. Period.” statement and those aren’t always well-received.

          1. MarsJenkar*

            I honestly find this attitude strange, and I’m a person who has hangups about being dishonest! Thing is, I’ve never considered honesty and politeness to be mutually exclusive except in a select subset of cases, and even then it’s not an excuse to be a straight-up jerk.

            1. Shad*

              Agreed. A quick wave instead of a cheery greeting? Reasonable level of bad day bleedout, especially with light acknowledgement that your day isn’t so great. Refusing to acknowledge others at all? Not cool.
              It’s not lying to manage how you act on your emotions.

            2. I Took A Mint*

              I agree, I find it so strange that people think they need to be “authentic” or “real” and that means… being rude and grumpy? Why is “authenticity” even a trait we want in people who are not our friends?

              I think this is especially strong in American culture, because I work outside of the US and we have words to differentiate the concept of your “true feelings” vs. the outside face you project to the world. Everyone knows you’re only seeing someone’s outside face and the business world doesn’t collapse.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I tell people that the “me” I am when I’m working with customers doesn’t exist. She’s a character I made up, and I play her when I need to. I feel like it’s a useful framing device, because it means it’s okay if I’m not being 100% authentic right now, because I’m not being me. I’m being “work me.”

          1. Mimi Me*

            My son is 12 and he talks about the different personalities he uses through the day: his school self is polite, attentive, and hard working; his friend self is kind, uses jokes as a way to connect with peers, and talkative; his home self is quiet, a bit lazy, and usually involves wearing only underpants. If a 12 year old can understand that you can’t always be your true self all the time, then so can adults!

            1. Observer*

              I’m impressed with this kid. He’s more perceptive than a lot of adults – certainly far better able to formulate and express concepts

            2. GreenDoor*

              I remember a psychology lesson from school about how we actually all DO have different selves. There’s the you you are in formal situations, the you that you are when you’re with close friends and other intimates, the you when you’re in an unknown environment, and the you that you are in your own head. May be more….but as far as the OP goes, her employee can be a grump all they want at home, but it’s totally reaonsable to expect a different version of “themself” at work.

          2. Ariaflame*

            There’s a fictional SF series I read which has a culture with the dominating concept really being this thing called melant’i. Basically it means that every person has a number of roles, parent, child, sibling, employer, employee, spouse, etc. etc. and that when you are acting within a particular role your actions should be the most right for that role. A person of melant’i is someone who will act correctly within whichever role necessity demands they act from at that moment.
            (The series is the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller)

          3. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            That’s exactly how I always looked at it!
            Then again, I took drama classes in high school and college, so learning to play a role wasn’t a stretch for me at all.

        4. EventPlannerGal*

          I’ve always found people like that fascinating, because having spent my entire working life in hospitality/service roles, the concept of being “authentically” anything at work is quite alien to me. It’s really interesting to hear that it’s something that some people are that attached to, because being “fake” to a degree is something that I’ve always found really helps me maintain a hard distinction between my work and home lives. Is that something these people tend to value?

          I wonder if it’s something that’s more or less prevalent in different industries. Like, I remember one manager I had who used to tell us about her first job in a five-star hotel, where before every shift you were supposed to inspect your appearance in a huge mirror in the changing room with a notice above it saying “REMEMBER, YOU ARE ON DISPLAY”. And she said that she would do that, and that’s when “real her” turned off and the “display version” turned on and did her shift for her. Obviously that’s quite an extreme way of talking about it, but I know many people in the hospitality industry with similar attitudes – it’s almost a sort of defensive shield, in that customers can yell at you or hit on you or tell you you’ve personally ruined their wedding anniversary dinner, but they’re not really doing that to *you*. They’re doing it to the display version, who you probably don’t even like that much. But in an office setting, having that sort of shield isn’t really necessary so perhaps it’s easier to be yourself?

          1. MayLou*

            Lorraine Kelly, a very popular TV presenter in the UK, was recently ruled by a judge to be a performance rather than a real person. (Obviously the actual person is a real person, but the persona of Lorraine the TV Presenter was deemed to be an act.) It was one of those interesting tax law cases that come up now and then, like the time that a real and protracted legal debate about the true nature of Jaffa Cakes was conducted.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Yes! When I saw that story it actually made me think of the manager I mentioned – uch an interesting case.

          2. Huluallday*

            I too did this in the hospitality industry. I felt that while at work I was portraying a character, and there was work me and home me. When moving up into HR for the company I encouraged this in training for new employees as well. It helped to reinforce the fact that it didn’t matter what was going on in our home life, but while at work we had a job to do, or a character to portray, every shift.

          3. LondonBridges*

            I did the same thing working as a sales associate in a corporate fashion store. It honestly became automatic after a few months, my voice got higher and more expressive (I normally have a pretty deep alto voice), more expressive hand gestures and smiles and faces, even my walk got faster and more purposeful. It was weird.

      3. Airy*

        It may be worthwhile throwing in “I don’t expect or require you to be constantly cheerful and perky either.” Defensive people will often react as if you’re asking them to do the complete opposite of what they’ve done rather than change it to a reasonable extent.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I agree! I think these “I have to be authentic” people will throw in the straw man of “you’re trying to make me be perky!”

          Tell them you just want them to be civil and calm.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            …. and listen to what is being said, as opposed to running it out to extremes. “Perky is not the same as civil and calm. Please listen carefully to what is being said and don’t super impose meanings that are just not there.”

      4. Sara without an H*

        Hi, Washi,
        Yes, managers need to pay attention to this. Getting along with co-workers is essential to the job. If being “fake” is what it takes, then I require direct reports to be fake.

      5. designbot*

        I think people just come at this from really different starting points. For example, whenever someone asks my dad how he is, his response has always been “oh, surviving.” That’s what I grew up with, that was normal to me. At old job, it took me like 2 years to figure out that the ONLY acceptable response was “Great! How about you?” Like literally I had a broken toe and was limping around the office and had to limp two blocks to and from my car everyday, and my “pretty good” was responded to with “just pretty good? Why not great?” That’s when it clicked that “GREAT!” was The Right Answer here, and it took me a while longer to get used to that, because it did feel very phony to me.
        I still think that’s probably on the extreme end of things and most cultures don’t expect greatness at all times, but it was a useful lesson to me on pleasantness in the workplace.

        1. Washi*

          Yeah, that’s pretty extreme. I’m thinking more about grumpiness related to work things – scowling and not participating in brainstorming meetings, sighing unhappily when asked to do a task that is part of the job description, etc. Stuff that is not explicitly refusing to do something, but is definitely telegraphing displeasure.

        2. Iconoclast in California*

          Ewwwwww. I would not want to work in a phony place like that. If you ask how I am, I will give you a fairly honest answer, not just a stock “GREAT”. Yuck.

        3. MarsJenkar*

          Yeah, that’s a bit far for me, and I suspect I *would* be the grump in that context. Because one hangup I have is that I can never state something I don’t know to be true. In your shoes, best I could say is “as well as could be expected”, because “great” would be patently false. But the “grump” in the letter goes further than that, where they use it as an excuse to be rude, and that is not a stance I can support.

        4. Observer*

          Yeah, that’s a bridge too far in a lot of ways. There is a difference between doing things you are not in the mood for, including being pleasant, and faking enthusiasm. It’s also stupid because that kind of thing makes it impossible to know when less than positive stuff is happening. And you NEED to know that stuff.

          1. pleaset*

            “There is a difference between doing things you are not in the mood for, including being pleasant, and faking enthusiasm.”


        5. Traffic_Spiral*

          “just pretty good? Why not great?”

          “… because I have a broken toe, asshole?”

      6. Artemesia*

        Being a polite and civilized person involves being fake a whole lot. No one wants to be around authentic people who dump their nonsense over everyone else. The very meaning of the word ‘professional’ means choosing to behave in ways you might not if your every whim and id driven urge were expressed.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Ha! yes! How many times have we talked about our work personas? oh my.
          “Yes, you have to be polite, that is why we call it ‘work’. You have to work at everything every day. This includes a polite and calm demeanor.”

    3. Chuck*

      Percy de Rolo, a grump? who would have guessed? :o

      Seriously though–I’m pretty brusque and come off as grumpy outside the office, but in it I know how to slap a happy on. It’s pretty basic professional etiquette.

  5. Anonym*

    Behavior is choice. Or rather, a series of choices. Behavior is not personality (though it may express it) or otherwise fixed and innate.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Every situation. Every time. OK, not when your building catches on fire, but when your boss comes over and says, we have new specs on the project so we have to backtrack and redo X. You choose to say, aw man! vs. No effing way. I did my part, tell them to suck it.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        My response is “Argggh. Did they say why it changed? What are the odds of it changing again, because it affects how I do the revision.”

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This 100%. I have a friend who is chronically late. Not 10-15 minutes late. More like 45 minutes – an hour late (sometimes more). When we were younger she told me that I needed to accept this as part of her personality. Yeah no, being ridiculously late is not part of your personality. Being selfish, and feeling your time is more important than mine is part of your personality. This is a similar situation. She is choosing to be grumpy and negative, and OP needs to lay down the law that her behavior is not acceptable. I hate fake people, but she can be civil with her coworkers without laying on the over the top fake kindness.

      1. GreenBoat*

        I witnessed a similar situation too. A sales guy at my old job constantly bemoaned that he “just wasn’t good at paperwork.” Really he just wasn’t detail-oriented or organized, and didn’t think it was worthy of his time, so he’d “forget” it or “wouldn’t get around” to it or would do it in a very incomplete or inaccurate way. Ended up getting fired after getting in trouble several times. He could have made up some sort of system to stay on top of his paperwork and gotten help on filling it out, but he chose not to.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          My old boss would do crappy, against-good-office-etiquette things like walking away from a paper jam in the copier in the middle of printing, without even telling anyone or asking for help, because she “just wasn’t mechanically-oriented.” So she’d just leave her printing job in process and go to a different printer (which of course meant that the person who eventually fixed it—usually me—had to deal with her excess printing on top of managing the actual paper jam). It was infuriating.

          1. GreenBoat*

            That happens to me a lot too! No idea who it is, but every third or forth time I need to use the printer, it’s out of paper, frozen, jammed, etc. and I need to deal with that before printing. There’s two printers, but I’d feel guilty ignoring the problem and using the other one unless I was in an urgent rush. I don’t understand how someone can be okay with leaving a mess for other people to fix.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I fin myself pickin up clothes from the floor of retail stores for the same reason. It bothers me more there than in my own home!

      2. Airy*

        I’m not asserting you’re wrong about your friend, who you actually know whereas I don’t, but some people are late less because of selfishness or carelessness, more because of problems they have with executive function (making plans and decisions and following through) due to a neurological disorder like ADHD or a mental illness like depression or anxiety disorder, and it feels worthwhile to mention that because there’s a very common narrative in our culture that lateness is only ever because of rudeness or laziness when the situation is more nuanced than that. To be clear, the lateness is still a problem that needs to be solved, not just accepted, but the best way to solve it will depend on the reasons behind it.

        1. Iconoclast in California*

          This. I’m either 15 minutes or more early, or terribly late. It very much depends on stress level and how with it my brain is. Add in traffic, monofocus, and forgetting what an alarm is actually *for*, and you get frequent late. It’s taken me years to minimize the late events, but they aren’t gone. That’s what ADD and brain injury get you.

        2. Lynca*

          Yeah the “X behavior is rude and the person is just lazy!” kind of chills me out of the comments on this so I am glad you said something. I have ADHD and the number of times I have been shut down as rude, lazy, thoughtless based on how others perceive my behavior could fill a book. My husband complains about how we always arrive too early when we go places. It’s a function of how I compensate with the ADHD and can be just as annoying.

          It’s almost like I’m always in a no win situation.

          1. Airy*

            And if you tell someone “You’re just late because you’re selfish and inconsiderate” and the real reason is that they got so irrationally worried about what to wear that they felt hot and sweaty all over and their ears were ringing and they could hear their heart beating and it was hard to breathe (voice of experience) and it took them a good half an hour to settle down from that and convince themselves they could still go, that’s going to be pretty crushing for them and probably not really what you wanted to happen.
            Obviously no one can be expected to know that without being told, and they might well be embarrassed and want to keep it private, but not directly assuming you know the reason and it’s bad is helpful.

        3. ADHDer*

          I sometimes have a super hard time getting places on time. It’s easier now bc I’ve read a lot of “specifically for ADHD” tips about it, but I’m still likely to either be weirdly early or late. I just do my best to keep everyone I’m meeting with apprised if I think I’ll be late, and for friends I sometimes tell them (always honestly!) like “i’m in the car about to pull out, google maps says it’ll be X:XX”, because they are often better than me at estimating how long it takes to park and walk into a building, etc, and I don’t want to waste their time if I forget to add enough padding.

          So, it IS inconsiderate of other people to just say “deal with it, this is me!” vs saying “I’m doing my best and I’m sorry, I know it’s annoying.”

    3. pleaset*

      Also reminded of a friend saying “They call it work because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like or that aren’t easy for you.”

  6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    No offense, but you’re being a doormat.
    Don’t get upset. I said no offense.
    Yeah, as I was reading it, I thought, not a get out of jail free card.
    I’m in desktop publishing. There is one document I hate creating. Don’t ask me, won’t do it. Because, after years of hard work, team work and being generally pleasant I get to pass on something I don’t like. On the other hand, I spend a lot of years doing bigger projects because I could meet the deadline and not milk it for over time/ask things that everyone in the position knows/do sloppy crap work/ or just be the “don’t bother asking her” person.
    Because that’s bull. It’s going to piss off a lot of good people because when you step over that broken stair, you need to step harder on the rest.

    1. Rainy*

      when you step over that broken stair, you need to step harder on the rest.

      This is another one of those quotes that needs to be on a toss pillow.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I’ve not seen it before, so I’m gonna say “yay for me.” But for real, I think they are worth remembering in thread!

      2. Artemesia*

        Absolutely. Brilliant way to phrase complaints about the importance of fixing the broken stair (by replacing it with a stair that is whole).

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Good one. And this does work because over all people are amazing. I was up for promotion but the bosses made a stink because I don’t do ladders. A coworker said, “Give her the job, and *I* will do the ladder work for her. It’s worth it to me because I don’t mind and NSNR is willing to take on a bunch of stuff that I am not interested in.”

      I did not get the promotion, probably for other hidden reasons. But I was awed by my cohort’s offer.
      Many times people can be willing to over look one short fall if lots of other stuff is rock solid.

  7. From That Guy*

    I appreciate Alison’s diplomacy. Now for the however. I believe you need to be as clear as possible as to what your work environment entails, particularly how this employees behavior does not fit. One toxic employee can cost a company a fortune. If you are willing to absorb that cost, so be it. Tell her what she does wrong and tell her what she needs to do. This is not your child, this is your employee, period. Make it clear to her what she needs to do going forward. End of meeting. Good luck.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think the more behaviors supervisors/managers see the more willing they are to go in on stuff and handle it.

      For myself, I would think of a parallel occasion where I did not handle something and it blew up on me. The blow up was a hundred times harder that just having a conversation early on. Matter of fact, I got so I FEARED the blow up so much it motivated me to dig into that conversation right away.

  8. JJ Bittenbinder*

    If someone tried to explain away their sexual harassment of a coworker or their extreme inability to get along with clients as “that’s just me!” I’m guessing that you’d deal with it directly and decisively, not worry about wanting them to feel supported. It’s the same thing here.

    Mmmm, yeah. Like the time the fact that a guy was sexually harassing me was hand-waved away by his boss as “Oh, Walter’s just a ‘good old boy’ type.” Didn’t fly.

    This really isn’t any different and, in fact, one could argue that the fact that she’s aware of it makes it easier on her to mitigate it. Isn’t identifying the problem the first step in overcoming it?

    1. zaracat*

      I’ve been in a similar situation with sexually inappropriate joking etc from a co-worker where everyone just said “that’s just how he is” including the initial response to my formal complaint. The thing that shut it down was being able to point to clear examples where the person behaved differently in other settings or with other people – where his behaviour wouldn’t have been tolerated – so it was clearly something within his control. Does grumpy co-worker act grumpily to people up the chain or to people they want something from? No? Then it is not “just how they are”.

      The best approach to “grumpy” is to be explicit in your expectations for workplace behaviour and consistent in calling out and having consequences for behaviour that doesn’t meet those expectations.

  9. BRR*

    I think it’s been a little while since a letter has touched on this topic but getting along with your coworkers is part of your job (!). You don’t, and I could are shouldn’t, have to be BFFs with your coworkers, but you have to be able to coexist.

    1. Snark*

      And above and beyond that, I also think there’s a reasonable expectation of a willing, capable, can-do kind of attitude around the work, too. I mean, obviously, if you’re overloaded or dealing with otherwise unreasoanble requests, that can look a little different, but basically, I think part of the job is not being whiny, exasperated, complaining, and/or grumpy about the job.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      My first boss used to say, “You are being compensated, in part, for your willingness to do the job.” For abundant clarity I’d add, “If you are not willing to get along with others then you have failed to do a major component of the job.”
      I would describe OP’s employee as having deeply-rooted misconceptions. The problem with deep roots is that bosses need jack-hammer type wording to dislodge that misconception.

      For those who say, “You are asking me to be FAKE!” I would have to say, “I am being FAKE right now, because I am pretending not to hear that you just said you can’t do this job. Let’s try this again: A requirement of this job is to get along with others. This means being polite and calm. Can you do that?”

  10. JudyInDisguise*

    But – doesn’t every workplace have one? I’ve never worked anywhere there wasn’t an Eeyore.

    1. Snark*

      Many workplaces have them. Not all workplaces must necessarily be saddled with them, and not all workplaces are led by people willing and able to call them out on their BS.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are a lot of Eeyores! But if you’re managing one and it’s impacting their work or their coworkers, it’s your job to intervene. (Lots of managers are bad at managing, which is why so many persist.)

    3. Knork*

      A specific kind of Eeyore can be beneficial. If everyone is gritting their teeth and trying to stay positive while dealing with something unpleasant, it can be kind of beneficial to have one person willing to sound negative or grouchy and say “you know what? This sucks.” An accurate Eeyore can be kind of cathartic to be around.

      1. GreenDoor*

        My office has our REsident Curmudgeon. But here’s the thing, while he embraces that “role” he’s only curmudgeonly in casual chit-chat or private conversations about the workplace with co-workers who are peers. When he’s dealing with customers he is professional and pleasant. When he’s doing his work, he takes pride in a job well done. When people ask for his help he willingly sits down and gives it. You can be a curmdudgeon as a personality trait and still be a professional when it comes to your actual work and human interaction.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yes, this the kind of grouch I’m used to.

          They’re the ones that if we have someone getting into our dumpster or blocking a bay door, they’re happy to approach the person who is doing these kinds of things and tell them to move their butts and move them now before we call the cops, etc

          Yet delightful to their coworkers for the most part because why sh*t where you sleep? Don’t do that. Team player CrankyPants or you’re gone.

        2. OriginalPoster*

          Yes, that is a helpful distinction. I’m not trying to change you as a person or turn you into the cheer captain but I need you to do your job effectively, which means not being unpleasant or telegraphing negativity.

      2. Mockingdragon*

        So much so. I really need that honest negativity. I can’t get through shitty days without acknowledging that they’re shitty. (Today’s episode of Why Mockingdragon Freelances Despite Costs And Fear)

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      All my former Eeyore’s were lowkey. I think it’s the same with every personality when it’s super over the top…

      We have more Tiggers than anything, ah my precious Tiggers…not everyone else could deal with them either but at least they are a drain on energy and not the vibe, maaaaaaaan.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I remember reading in school of studies that show there can be one person who carries the negativity for the whole group. Others can be more upbeat because Eeyore is holding the negativity for them.
      This can happen in other types of groups and in families also.

      I can remember times thinking, “Why am I the only person worried about X?” Then it dawned on me that I had been vocal enough that no one else had to speak up. So I shut up and watched the meltdowns begin. I was surprised at how often this happened.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        Hmmm. I may try that. I’m getting tired of being the only one who will say “The Emperor has no clothes” and being called “negative” in my workplace.

  11. Snark*

    “he points out that a rigid allegiance to “being yourself” can sometimes be pointless vanity — and at odds with actually benefitting yourself and the people around you.”

    Oh my god, yes, this, a thousand times this. We ALL have facets of our personality that we would be ill-advised to bring to work, and there is no betrayal of one’s essential nature to preferentially show some aspects of yourself to colleagues over others. People who stubbornly insist on showing the worst facets of their personality at all times out of some perceived allegiance to “being themselves” are irritating and precious and, as Alison said, pointlessly vain.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I liked that article, which I hadn’t seen before; it was like a thumbnail version of Carol Dweck’s wonderful _Mindset_ book.

    2. Rainy days*

      Yes. And I’d go even further–we all have aspects of “being ourselves” which are obligated to protect everyone from, not just coworkers. I have a quick temper when it comes to certain things, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to take out on my husband any more than on my coworkers–it’s something I constantly work on.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      There was a comment a while back in response to a LW or caller (could have been a podcast episode) who didn’t want to have to say “Good morning” to everyone… or anyone. The comment was in support, and said something to the effect that they wanted all of their interactions with people to be Authentic, and just offering a generic greeting was inauthentic so why bother.

      This article pretty much describes the issue I have with that attitude. As well as any excuse of “that’s just how so-and-so is.” That does not excuse so-and-so from the expectation that people make some attempt to get along with each other at work, for which they are paid.

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Yes! It becomes, the rules don’t apply to me because I don’t naturally conform to them. Well, bully for you. The purpose of rules and social norms is to benefit EVERYBODY. Everybody gives in a little bit to get a whole lot more. An office filled with prima donnas is not going to last to long.

    5. epi*

      That was a great article. I had to have the same realization early in my career.

      I had always been painfully shy– so shy I got in trouble at student jobs for not being proactive about problems, when those problems would have required me to reach out to another person.

      Then I got a job that involved approaching people who were at our hospital for medical care for their kid, and asking them to do (really minimal, but still) medical research while they were there. Oh, and I needed to get comfortable with it fast, because the person I was helping had had no backup for months and was going on vacation.

      There is no room for your feelings if you want to not intimidate and harass people in that situation. You figure out how to anticipate their needs, and pay close enough attention to respond in the moment, or you GTFO until you can control yourself. Realizing that these interactions were fundamentally about protecting and caring for others, and that my demeanor had to be an instrument for that rather than reflecting something honest about me (and that that was even possible), was huge. It affected more than just that aspect of my work, and ultimately more than just my work.

      Pointless vanity is right. I realized I was indulging in vanity regarding something I didn’t even like about myself.

      1. Save One Day at a Time*

        This mindset is how I went from “kind of knowing Spanish” to fluent. Because there was no room to be self-conscious about my language, if I didn’t use what I had, the work wouldn’t get done.

    6. Emi.*

      But also, I think, insecure. A lot of negative-attribute-identities (grump, flake/hot mess, the oversharing one) are conceptualized as endearing and lovable in their terribleness, and I think people conflate the two aspects and then lean into the terrible side so that people will love them. Like, you realize you frequently have a negative attitude, but if you make it your whole personality then you can be “ahh, you’re the grump we all know and love” instead of “why are you complaining again?”. In theory. (This doesn’t change any of the advice but I think it’s really interesting, and I think the strongest effect is seen in the hot mess friend.)

      1. Dragoning*

        Ironically, it’s the traits outside the “grump” or the “hot mess” or whatever that make them lovable that way. Ah, yes, you’re grumpy about this–because it’s messing with your cute cat photo collection, that’s sorta funny. Or the hot mess who always apologizes and bakes brownies when you come clean up her messes. Or whatever.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, sometimes I want to sit people down and be like “just because a character is fun to watch on tv doesn’t mean people would want to work, date, or be friends with that person in real life.”

  12. Alana*

    This is why a little goes a long way when it comes to personality tests. If you see them as a tool to help you understand how you do your best work, or why you might clash with other well-meaning people on the team, and then use that knowledge to accommodate your own and other’s styles, great.

    But it’s also really easy for them to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially with people who think that apologizing/being aware of their flaws makes them OK.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, I really like that framing for the OP to use with the employee — “being aware of our flaws doesn’t make them okay; it gives us information about what we need to work on.”

      1. Snark*

        I like this too. I’ve observed that a lot of people like this tend to kind of have a mental image of “the grump” as kind of a lovably curmudgeonly but wise and “tells it like it is” office archetype, and tend not to appreciate that their negativity is genuinely negative and holds them back. Not everybody takes shortness and dismissal with a shake of the head and an “oh, you!” This framing kind of….pops that bubble.

      2. Alana*

        My former manager and current coworker trends toward grumpiness when she’s stressed or tired, and by the tenth or twentieth time I got “hey, sorry I was short with you earlier, I’m cranky today” during busy season, it was very clear to me that awareness of and apologizing for one’s flaws do not actually make it any better for the people around you.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          An apology is empty if there is no change going forward. Some people use it as currency to pay for their mistake. Then they feel that they have a clean slate and can make the same mistake again. An apology is an expression of regret. If a person keeps doing the same thing over and over then they actually don’t regret it.

    2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      Yes, this, absolutely.

      I think it’s a problem with implementation more than the inventories themselves. So often teams just… take them, with no other direction than “use this to understand your co-workers and your work type better.” If they’re going to actually be useful as tools to change team culture, you need a facilitator or supervisor who knows how to move from “understand” to “accommodate” like you say above and helps guide people from “what I am” to “how I choose to behave.”

      If you don’t have that, you’ve just given people an entrenching tool to use in their turf wars.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      My name is Karma and I’m an alcoholic.
      Hi, Karma. Wait are you drinking now?
      I said I was an alcoholic.

    4. Sara without an H*

      I’m going to file this one for future reference. (I have a nasty feeling I’m going to need it some day soon.)

    5. Southern Yankee*

      I came here to say exactly this! No matter my skepticism, I assume the goal of a company paying for such an assessment is for the group to be aware of how people interact differently and possible strategies to adopt to get the best result. It is certainly not an excuse to behave as the archetype and be a jerk about it. Hapless Bureaucrat makes sense – someone needs to draw the connection between “results” and “what we want you to do with this information.” OP, if this didn’t happen in your situation, it may be worthwhile to follow up with the entire group (not that it changes any advice on grumpy).

    6. BadWolf*

      Indeed! I’m not very good at teaching. I run out of patience fast and am not great at coming up with other ways to explain things. This doesn’t mean I can use it as an excuse to never ever teach anyone anything, it means that I need to be extra chill when teaching and try harder to think of different approaches.

    7. SierraSkiing*

      Personality tests can be great if they help you be aware of both your strengths and things you can improve- I took a test that was pretty uncannily accurate, and it pointed out some common ways my type struggles to communicate with people. After a bit of feeling mortified, I started paying extra attention to that type of communication, and I’m now much better at it. I didn’t “change my personality”; I developed some soft skills that didn’t come naturally to me.

    8. Parenthetically*

      Yeah, self-awareness is GREAT! But it’s a tool, not an end in itself. I need to be aware of my tendency to procrastinate, to daydream, to imagine the ideal scenario in a hundred iterations while doing exactly zero work to get to any kind of good scenario, but not so I can just go, “Oh well, yeah, I’m just a daydreamer/procrastinator, sorry.” The ENTIRE POINT of being aware of my sh*t is so I can a) leverage the good sh*t for good, and b) try to eliminate, transform, outgrow, or life-hack the bad sh*t.

  13. Ingalls*

    “That’s just me!” is not a get-of-out-jail-free card for any and all negative traits.


  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    She’s her own worst enemy. Stop trying to help her advance when all she does is react poorly. You can’t have your cake and eat it to, you’re doing so much emotional work for someone who makes excuses for their poor behavior here!

    All promoting her will do is spread her bad vibes and negativity deeper into your organization. She doesn’t even want it with the pushback when it’s brought up in real-time instead of the wishy washy in passing comments.

    I’ve had this person on staff before and life was easier to avoid her, limit tasks that aren’t her own already and just put a stop to anything that is inappropriate (being rude, snapping at coworkers, venting excessively after being told to stop, etc.)

    You’re feeding the negative dragon by trying to tiptoe around it and find out how to live with a fire breathing “grump”.

  15. Manya*

    Comparing grumpiness to sexual harassment seems unhelpful to me. One is illegal, the other, while certainly, annoying, and potentially a reason for termination at its most extreme, is not legally actionable.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      We’re not comparing the severity of the offenses. We’re using examples of other things that can’t be excused away with “this is just who I am.”

      1. Anonym*

        Which is helpful to some of us readers, as it vividly illustrates how flawed the excuse is. :)

        1. BRR*

          We all have different working styles! Not joking now, it’s just another delivery tool for the core message. Similar to how we sometimes flip the gender of people in a scenario to see how egregious it is.

      2. Manya*

        But I think to a certain extent it *can* be waved away. There will always be the Eeyores of the world, and they don’t *have* to change. The same can’t be said of sexual harassers.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But we’re talking about good management here. And a good manager isn’t going to wave away someone whose negativity is affecting their coworkers or their effectiveness.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Someone in a comment above used an example of her being sexually harassed and her boss waving it away as him just being a “good old boy”. It’s a fair comparison.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Extremes can be helpful for clarity.
      If something is not an arrestable offense that does not mean it is not offensive to others. Now this should be obvious but for some it’s not. I ended up in a discussion with a cohort where I said, “We have to be nice to other people.” She said, “Well if I don’t feel like being nice then I can’t and won’t.” Then she launched into her list of reasons why she is not nice some days. I said, “Others face their own full set of obstacles.” I don’t think she believed me or she did not care. I will say that for some people their lives are so unpleasant that surviving the next five minutes is their main goal and they don’t have brain space for too much else.
      OP if this describes your employee then she may not be able to change. The person in my story ended up being nice to me most of the time. I attribute that to taking the lead on being consistently pleasant to her. I had to initiate. (I did not supervise this person. But I did need to be able to work with her well.)

    4. SouthernGuy*

      The comparison reminds me, as a gay man, of when we are compared to prostitutes, adulterers, murderers. I think there are more appropriate comparisons for Mr or Ms Grumpy.

  16. Junior Dev*

    I have a pretty strained relationship with my mom and one reason is she uses “that’s how I am” to excuse rude behavior.

    People like this forget that for the people they treat badly, “who I am” probably includes “someone who doesn’t want to be treated that way.”

    1. Third username*

      My mother-in-law does this. She tells me I need to get thicker skin because this is just “how she is” I always think, “or you could just avoid being an asshole and try to stick to saying kind or constructive things.”

      1. Artemesia*

        “Well not wanting to be constantly carped at is ‘just how I am’ and so don’t expect to see as much of us, if you treat us like this.”

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        “I don’t associate with people who treat me like that. It’s just how I am.”

  17. Mrs_helm*

    Isn’t the point of those personality tests that we understand our strengths and weaknesses…and learn how to best work with them or mitigate them? (And those of others.)

    1. Ama*

      Yeah, when my employer had us do them in our training (we took one that focused on communication styles), the entire follow-up session was about “now we all know our own strengths and tendencies, let’s talk about how to communicate more clearly with those who have strengths in different areas.”

      I’m curious if OP thinks their session *didn’t* impart that message or if the employee is just willfully misinterpreting it so she can dig in her heels.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Anybody who willfully tells her boss that the reason she was rude and uncooperative is willingly insubordinate and she knows damn well what she’s doing. But it’s been working so why change?

    2. BRR*

      “how to best work with them or mitigate them?” Exactly! Identifying she’s a grump isn’t very helpful and probably wasn’t new information. The goal should be for her to say, “I realize I can be grumpy so I’m going to do X, Y, and Z to work on that.” Like in a job interview if someone is asked what their weakness is, I wouldn’t want to hear, “I’m bad with prioritizing” and that’s the end of their answer.

    3. OriginalPoster*

      Yes, and to be fair, I think that the overall takeaway for most people was about how to best work together across the varying styles … but this particular employee used it as a way to reinforce her pre-existing attitude.

  18. voyager1*

    Sometimes AAM really does impress me with her ability to be very diplomatic about things. Personally I would just skip to the paragraph about having the sitdown with the employee in question… and I would end that conversation with somerthing along the lines of “if you can’t do this I have no use for you.”

    LW Your employee isn’t a grump, they are just a lazy person who plays being a jerk to get out of stuff. This is toxic for others to see. Get her to ship up or she needs to ship out.

  19. Justme, The OG*

    I’m an introverted grump. I know this. So I am careful to not present this way at work.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Me, too. Is that “fake”? Well, for my money, fake is good. Hypocrisy is the glue that holds civilization together.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        I’ll be fake if it means I am gainfully employed and able to interact with other human beings.

  20. Autumnheart*

    I’d spell it out like, “The kind of person I want to promote is someone who is collaborative, is positive in the face of challenges, treats their colleagues with respect even when the chips are down, and who acts as a positive influence on the team. You say you’re interested in earning a promotion and more responsibility, but when I give you assignments that would improve your reputation, you react by being very negative and openly doubtful about whether you can complete the work. You also take your attitude out on your coworkers. You say it’s because you’re a grump, but I’ll say right now that I have no intention of promoting a grump. I want to promote a rockstar. Think about whether you’d rather be a grump or a rockstar.”

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I like this, but I’d begin with getting employee to realize that being a grump is not a personality trait, it’s a choice. Because to me that’s the most important message that needs to be sent. Employee is using it as an excuse to get away with unacceptable behavior, and it needs to stop.

    2. OriginalPoster*

      Yes! Between when this was sent and posted, we had a direct conversation where I was able to say something similar to this and I think that she appreciated me being more candid about my expectations.

  21. Amelia*

    I love this “excessive need to be me” phrasing!
    I’ve generally found those who say “I’m the kind of person who _______” tend not to be the kind of person with whom I like working. Usually due to too much self-reverence. But I’ve never been able to fully articulate why.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, that can be a bit of a flag. I think some people fall into it as a habit, but it’s funny how “I’m the kind of person who keeps their desk tidy” is a different statement than “I like to keep my desk tidy.”

      1. Anonym*

        Interesting point. It feels like there’s a bit of judgement against others in the first version, and not in the second.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Yes, definitely. Thank you– that’s a great way to articulate the difference.

      2. MayLou*

        I frame some things as “I’m someone who…” because I’ve discovered that I am much, much more likely to make a behaviour a habit if it is part of my identity instead of something I’m doing. For instance, I have had a several-years struggle to cut down on my sugary snacks consumption. No matter what boundaries/rules I set for myself, nothing sticks for long. However, when I became vegan, I had no problem entirely eliminating all dairy, eggs and other animal products from my diet and keeping that up for five+ years at this point. It’s more than just an all-or-nothing versus moderation style issue, because I’ve tried completely cutting out processed sugar and that’s not worked. There’s something about an identity label that makes a behaviour change stick.

        1. Artemesia*

          As a vegan you are also choosing vegan foods which is easier than eliminating tasty sugary foods (I am struggling with that, I know). It is easier to focus on doing something than not doing something.

        2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

          I think there’s evidence that if you want people to do something, getting people to identify as a person who does that thing is more effective than asking them to do it. I’ve been doing some get-out-the-vote work in the last couple of years, and one of the things the organizers ask us to write, along with “Fergus is the best candidate because…” is “thank you for being a voter.” Specifically “for being a voter,” rather than “for voting,” because they think it’s more effective. The idea is that if I think of myself as “a voter,” and have that as part of my identity along with things like “editor” and “knitter,” I will make a point of voting even if it’s inconvenient, more likely than someone who is thinking of voting as an action, even if they agree that they should vote. (All those “I think”s are because there probably is research backing this, but I can’t point to it myself.)

          If that’s true, the LW’s coworker is more likely to do the things she has labeled as part of “being a grump” than if she thought of those as habits, good or bad, like “I don’t want to talk to anyone until I’ve had my coffee” or “I tend to get irritated when people make mistakes.”

      3. Not So NewReader*

        “I’m the kind of person who does x..”
        It feels like an incomplete sentence. And one could wonder what the rest of the sentence is…

        “I am the kind of person who does x… AND YOU should be too!”

        “I am the kind of person who does x because the world is divided into two groups, those who do x and those who don’t do x.” (Noooo, there’s an entire group out there who does x some times but no other times. And there’s another group who never even heard of doing x.)”

        “I’m the kind of person who does x.” And then I figure “okay”. As weeks go by, I realize they skip x all. the. time.

        Generalities about one’s self can be potholes in life. I had something happen to me when I was in my early 20s [long story here]. And I decided to do my best to avoid statements that started with “I always” or “I never”. Included in the avoidance group would be “I am the kind of person who…” Because I found out the hard way that I was making these types of statements and they were NOT true. All I did was make ME look foolish to others. I know I have not been totally successful in avoiding these phrases but I am very glad to have the raised awareness of how these phrases can cause problems later on.

        OP’s got a good example going on here. “This is who I am…” shows an unwillingness to change and an unwillingness to grow and develop. Promotions are not based on how STUCK we are.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I think it’s because they’re announcing that they hold the most uncritical view of the kind of person they are, and it usually conveys as an extreme version of that kind of personal aspect. Like, someone who says “I’m the kind of person who tells it like it is” never has anything good to say.

      The converse can be true too – I’ve found that certain people who state they are This kind of person (when This is usually a virtue, like loyal or hardworking or ethical) are in fact The Opposite kind of person.

      1. Airy*

        See also “I don’t want any drama” from a person who causes a fuss at every opportunity.

    3. Bulbasaur*

      Yes, thanks to Alison for re-linking that. I immediately thought of it when I read the question, but I couldn’t remember enough of the key terms to locate it with Google.

    4. SierraSkiing*

      I think it implies less of a growth mindset. Like the people who say “I’m just the kind of person who doesn’t get computers”, and they then stop trying to fix any computer problem on their own. They pick a definition and give up.

  22. Lily*

    She should just get a job at the “sorry for that horrible request” place (question earlier this week, I think?). That way everyone would be happy (or happy to be unhappy).

  23. StressedButOkay*

    I’d also frame it using other things that people self-identify with that are also harmful to a good working environment. The next time she shrugs it off, ask her if she would think it was okay if she self-identified with being a procrastinator and shrugged off missing deadlines/etc. because “Well, that’s just me! I’m just a procrastinator!”

    We all have negative traits, we’re human, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay when they start having an impact on our professional lives. You should be working to negate those traits and impact, not embrace them.

    At least, you know, not in the work space.

  24. Trouble*

    Please deal with her. I’ve been made to work with so many bad coworkers because of a manager who was scared of confrontation or willing to write off bad behaviour as that’s just how he/she is so we need to work around it.

    Being told to be super nice to someone because they wouldn’t do their job if you weren’t one of their friends, which meant asking for them to do their actual job as if they were doing you a favour and then thanking them perfusly every time they just did their actual job.

    Being told that the colleague who would tear you down to the lowest in front of everyone ‘doesn’t know how she comes across’ and is just blunt but doesn’t mean to hurt feelings so you just have to toughen up to her is soul destroying. If only a manager had told ‘Mary’ if had an issue with a colleague she should speak to the manager (I fully support talking to the colleague first in most cases and I would personally go to the person and say ‘when you don’t fill in your tps report it makes me late with the xls files so could you please make sure to get the tps report done by Wednesday at 3pm going forward so the xls files can be compiled on time? but I could do that in a matter of fact way without yelling or belittling the other person or making them feel like crap.) and they would handle it. Or if ‘Mary’ was outright told that she was rude and abrasive and could not speak to her coworkers in that fashion any more, I might not have left that job. But instead we were all told to tip toe around ‘Mary’ and just let it roll off our backs. Like no, I shouldn’t have to suffer because my manager can’t do the job they’re being paid to do and manage her behaviour.

    Maybe people do understand that the ‘Mary’ in this letter is badly behaved but I can almost certainly promise they think the manager who’s letting her continue to be badly behaved and rude to her coworkers is an ineffective, bad manager.

    Like the colleague who’s never at their desk to do their job and spends the day knowing all the places to hide instead and the manager can’t be bothered doing the small amount of work it would take to manage them on it, like get up and go find them and say ‘you’ve been away from your desk for 45 minutes and coworkers are struggling to cover all the customers. What are you doing?” And setting expectations like ‘I need you to limit time away from your desk to 5-10 minutes if you’re not on your scheduled break. (No one should need to justify going to the toilet or getting a drink, totally, but those things can typically be done in 5 mins here and there, not constantly being missing for 30-45 mins of every hour.) And that manager was a really nice person, and that’s what I remember about her. She was nice, but a terrible manager who wouldn’t set realistic goals for us and hold us to them, who wouldn’t maintain standards and was so deathly afraid of confrontation she had no business managing anything. I remember her as the nice person who was a bad manager.

    Tackle your Mary. Don’t be the bad manager. And you’re not just being a bad manager to the people who have to put up with Mary. You’re being a bad manager to Mary. Because she’s never getting promoted with that attitude problem, and you can’t trust her with more projects in case she alienates the rest of the team who still speak to her and makes it impossible for her to get the projects done at all. So you’re doing her a disservice by not telling her that being ‘the grump’ means she will also ‘be the person in the corner who can’t advance or get more interesting tasks/projects’ for the rest of her career because everyone refuses to work with her and you’d be committing career suicide if you promoted her and put her shoddy interpersonal relationships under a brighter spotlight for your higher ups. You’re seriously likely losing better colleagues than Mary already as they decide being super sugary nice to Mary to try and get her onside just to do her frickin’ job is more hassle than it’s worth and they’re ready to go try the next place that might have better coworkers and less (from the outside looking in) ineffective managers.

  25. Dust Bunny*

    I’m in a department of four people, two of whom wouldn’t interact with other humans for days on end if they could help it. (I’m one of those people.)

    But it’s part of our job, so when patrons come in we put on our most pleasant and charming personalities for as long as it takes. The fact that I wish that 95% of other people were cats instead is irrelevant and it’s definitely not a pass to be cranky. She can choose to be like that, but she’s also choosing to get passed over for promotions and to be a lot less effective at her job because nobody wants to deal with that.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      “I wish that 95% of other people were cats instead”

      Turn out the lights. Thread over.

  26. Justin*

    As others have said, yeah, that’s not an excuse. It might be a reason, a reason for poor performance, which then needs to be addressed. But it’s not an excuse.

    I… find most of what my coworkers say to be irritating. But if I snap at them to shut up, that would be my problem, not theirs.

  27. The Phleb*

    We call this ‘drinking the kool aid’ and ‘put on your Disney smile’ at my work! No matter what might be happening in your personal life…no matter what type of personality you might have, you STILL have to make it a pleasant experience for your patients/clients/customers/co workers. (And I’m not talking that you can never have a bad day… BUT you still need to function).

    1. Karen from Finance*

      I’m not loving those two particular phrases. I don’t want to be rude, but I just thought it ought to be mentioned. “Drinking the kool aid” comes from a horrific event in human history in which the people who did drink it ended up dead. And “Disney smile” is better but only slightly, once you remember how badly that company’s employees are treated and how much of their livelihoods depends on them having that smile on 24/7. I just find the phrases troubling and I’d be concerned if people used them positively where I worked.

      I’m sorry if this is being nitpicky.

      I do see your point other than that, though. Don’t make other people have to be dealing with your crap, essentially.

      1. MayLou*

        I didn’t realise that is where the phrase came from! I’d heard of the Jonestown massacre but not made the connection. How horrible.

        1. Artemesia*

          I remember vividly these events; included was the murder of a US congressman who was flying into investigate and then the mass murder/suicide of the entire cult including little children who were given cool aid laced with cyanide to drink. So when a manager I worked with insisted it was important to ‘drink the cool aid’ after a merger and just do what we were expected to do, it sort of gave me the creeps.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        “Drinking the KoolAid” is such a widely used phrase it’s almost completely divorced from the Jim Jones thing.

        I mean supposedly the word “deadline” has Civil War origins, where hundreds of thousands of people died.

        I didn’t know about Disney not treating their workers well..

        1. animaniactoo*

          So well known there’s a slam in one of the Shrek movies about it. The whole dental plan thing in Shrek… II I think.

        2. Observer*

          Not the same – it’s very much tied to it. AND what people forget about that one is that a lot of people who drank that poison did so under direct physical duress. Not just psychological conditioning, but actual force majeur and physical threats.

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            The phrase is meant to be critical of those who willingly go along with something awful. Poisoned Kool Aid = the Something Awful. It’s really not meant to be used in any sort of positive sense.

      3. Mama Jo*

        Also not trying to be nitpicky, the drink used at Jonestown wasn’t Kool-Aid. It was a similar powdered drink product, Flavor Aid.

    2. CMart*

      The major restaurant chain I used to work at had a bunch of “theories” that all employees were trained in and then tested on.

      Their version of this was called “The Cloak Theory”. Aka: you cloak yourself in your work-persona when you walk in the door and leave your Actual Self behind. I thought this concept was a given and that having a name for it was superfluous but I guess not!

      See also: Game Face, Professionalism

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        I called it putting on my work costume and playing my role as Good Worker.

  28. animaniactoo*

    I don’t have much to add to what Alison’s said here, because I think she hit every single note spot on.

    Within my family, I have attacked this as “You can be in a bad mood, have something upset you, etc. But I don’t deserve to have to deal with the results of it when I haven’t done anything to cause it. Since it is YOUR bad mood/aggravation/whatever, it is up to YOU to find a way to manage it so that it does not impact me to this level.”

    This applies to dealing with bad traffic, a headache, aggravation at self for screwing something up, and so on. Extrapolate as needed. I have found that “ownership” of the bad mood’s results has helped the thought process of whether anyone should have to put up with it, just because that’s how they are/feel/etc.

    Oh, okay. Also potentially useful concept, in reference to Alison’s internal viewpoint. “If you want to be grumpy, you have to use your inside-your-head voice.”

  29. Name Required*

    I worked with an office “grump” who complained about everything. One day, I asked him nicely about the status of an overdue project as he was getting into the office — he typically came in several hours after the start of business, and the client was awaiting an answer. He lost it and screamed in my face. He felt comfortable doing so, because his increasingly “grumpy” aka aggressive behavior had been tolerated for years.

    I was so shaken that I had to take a few minutes to compose myself and then I called our boss, the owner of the company. The boss decided this behavior was part of his personality. That this coworker had an issue with women and that I should be sympathetic to how hard that was for him. That it might help if thought about how lonely it must be since his behavior seemed to ruin all his personal relationships.

    Please don’t me my former boss. Be direct to Grumpy that her behavior is unacceptable. I can’t imagine that your other employees are seeing this behavior, not seeing this behavior shut down directly, and are coming away with a good impression of you because of it.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I have learned that a useful response to this is “Having issues with people screaming in my face is part of my personality. I need him to be sympathetic to that.”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Gross, I’m delighted that this was a former boss and not a current boss.

      You yell, I’m done. I told a former boss that right in the interview stage, he promised that’s not how he operated his business. He didn’t lie. A client/vendor [yeah, weird setup] snapped at me and snapped at our foreman about the same nonsense, all over a really cheap load of lumber that wasn’t tagged perfectly…good grief. I just carefully sat the phone down and told my boss that “DudeBro is upset and he’s screaming…” “At you?” “Yeah…” “Oh…he did not…” and he got on the phone and unleashed, he told the guy never to speak to me again. Which was glorious since I was the go-between and usually the one you needed to talk to to get to Boss Man. So the guy turned all sorts of upside down over it.

      We did the whole “that’s who he is” in terms of we knew he was a brat but there are limits, the limit is “being an abusive POS”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      lonely because of his behavior???
      Keep it up, Boss, you are going to learn what loneliness really is after you lose all your employees and all your business. But, hey, at least you tried to keep Yeller employed as long as possible.

      Sigh. That is pathetic. Very sorry you went through that.

      1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

        I have ZERO sympathy for people who are lonely due to their own behavior. They could change that, if they really wanted to.

    4. Luna*

      “and that I should be sympathetic”
      What? No, it’s not your job to be sympathetic to someone who can’t stand that a not-male-genitalia-owner is asking him a perfectly valid question. Stop giving the big baby his bottle. If he cannot work with women, he should be relegated to a job where only men work. (Also for the sake of the poor women, who are expected to just put up with this type of behavior. Do everyone a favor.)

  30. Bethan*

    It’s great that you are trying to find productive ways to work with her, LW. I’m curious, though; are you willing to fire her if she doesn’t change her ways? The direction to change her behavior might be more powerful if she felt that there were going to be adverse consequences besides not advancing in her field.

    1. OriginalPoster*

      That’s a good question. I am willing to put her on a PIP but I think there would need to be more issues related to job productivity for HR and exec level to be on board with taking it further than that.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Why put someone on a PIP if they won’t be fired if they don’t improve the target behavior?

  31. Witness*

    I identify as a grump. between service excellence programs, wellness programs, motivational meetings, ergonomic assessments, surveymonkey surveys about the state of the company, I’m surprised any of us can ever get any actual work done. This is why we’re short…we want to cut to the chase.

    1. Elspeth*

      There’s a difference between cutting to the chase and being rude or dismissive, though.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      I guess I’d maybe believe this if I had any observation that grumpy people were more productive than positive people, but that doesn’t actually hold any water in my experience with them.

  32. JSPA*

    I’d separate out the “grumpy to coworkers” aspect (if you don’t feel cordial, learn to fake it!) from “has to work through some up front negativity about additional duties.”

    People who always lead with a cheery “yes, can do” without thinking through the pros and cons look really great–until they flame out spectacularly.

    People who immediately chug through them may be less charming, but they’re actually often more dependable, because they don’t commit if they’re not actually a tolerably good fit for the job.

    In your place, I’d work with your eeyore as follows:

    Tell her that you don’t want an immediate answer, because you want to give her time to work through the pros and cons. Say explicitly that what you’re offering her is an example of “advancement”: incrementally-increased oversight, incrementally increased complexity, incrementally increased requirements that she control and curate her personal reactions and interactions. Tell her to get back to you in [however many] hours with any questions, and that you’ll need a “yes” or “no” by [time of your choice, that, leaves you plenty of time to move on to the next person].

    Then she can chew over the situation on her own time, for a limited time, and get back to you when she’s done her mastication.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Both types of people, the Negative Neds/Nancies and the Head Nodders, need to sit down for a little chat with their boss.
      I have seen Head Nodders burn out a company or a project quicker than the Negative Folks.

      For folks that have to work through negative thoughts on a regular basis (raises hand), I’d recommend being quiet until you sort your thoughts. Some objections are legit. Some objections have solutions. And some objections are just too far-fetched.
      A question I used to help me sort is, “What do I want here that I do not have?” And that might take a day or three for me to find an answer that I could put into words. I had to cut through feelings of being overwhelmed and go down to the steps of the project. I’d inch through the steps figuring out what I needed for each step. Sure enough, I would figure out what I was missing.

  33. brighidg*

    I’m going to disagree with everyone here.

    There is a weird and honestly creepy tendency in American corporate culture to demand positivity 24/7 (especially from female employees). And I never realized it until I a notorious “grump” and “b*tch” moved from an American workplace to a German workplace where I am suddenly consider very pleasant if a bit timid at times. I have not changed. The culture and the expectations have. They don’t need me to smile constantly, they’re okay with my negative takes and actually I get more in trouble for not being more blunt about those.

    A lot of your workers are there because they don’t have better choices. They owe you their work as defined in their role and to be a decent person, they do not owe you their devotion or joy. As long as she isn’t whining about work in front of your boss or refusing to work, let it go. As long as she does her work without bothering people who cares? It’s not your job to manage her feelings, stop thinking that it is.

    1. hbc*

      OP *is* trying to manage actions, which includes being dismissive of coworkers and turning down work that could lead to a wanted promotion. And I think there’s a difference between telling someone they need to be upbeat and saying they need to be cooperative and not actively unpleasant to be around.

      1. brighidg*

        That I agree with wholeheartedly but the LW muddies the water by bringing up her frowning (ok??) and the body language talk in general. Who cares? Unless she’s in a customer facing role, who cares?

        Seriously, if we were talking about some random person telling a woman to smile we’d all agree that was weird but your boss gets to manage if you smile/frown? Why? As long as the employee isn’t crying at their desk, just let them feel their feelings – quietly. It’s not that important unless employee will be facing customers or is training become an international spy.

        1. Name Required*

          I don’t owe a stranger on the street a smile; strangers on the street aren’t trapped with me for 8 hours a day. If they don’t like my face, they can walk on by. Coworkers and my boss are not strangers. They do have to interact with me all day, most days of the week.

          From your logic, I don’t see how crying is any different from scowling all day long. Why is scowling and snapping at coworkers okay but crying isn’t? … you’re just so close to the point that it’s amazing you can’t see it.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          She’s bringing those up because body language and facial expressions are one of the many ways human being express emotions. The emotion being expressed by the overall combination of frowning, scowling, saying “ugh this is asking a lot”, defeatism, words of self-doubt and negativity, and curtness and grumpiness towards coworkers, is very negative – and much of it is in response to being offered work that she asked for.

          The OP obviously does not want her to stop frowning because she thinks it’s ugly, or for that matter to stop saying “ugh this is asking a lot” because her voice is annoying. She wants her to be civil to her and to her colleagues, and the overall combination of all of these elements is not achieving that.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            And some gestures are now considered under the heading of bullying, such as eye rolls.

            I think there is a big difference between telling someone they have to smile all day and telling them they have to be polite and calm with their cohorts.
            I do agree that women get many pressures that men do not have and this is wrong. But I don’t think that is where OP is going with this.

      2. Czhorat*


        “I’m a grump” implies a low-level of constant hostility. That’s not OK in a workplace.

        I’ll add that, while I understand your issues with forced positivity, negativity is NOT a good thing either; too much creates a toxic work environment.

    2. Autumnheart*

      She *is* whining about work, and not being a decent person to her coworkers. It’s not like she just has a case of RBF.

      1. brighidg*

        I want examples because given what the LW has shown us so far, I think the LW has unreasonable expectations. Yeah her employee probably isn’t promotion material if she isn’t super excited about her current job but saying “ugh this is a lot” when being told she needs a rework or frowning sometimes is not convincing me.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But this isn’t about her feelings; as I said in the post, she can feel however she wants. This is about needing to not to make work unpleasant for other people (the OP says she is dismissive with coworkers) and not making people manage her negative emotions for her when she’s assigned new work.

      No one has said employees owe employers devotion or joy. You’re setting up a straw man here.

      1. brighidg*

        No, I’m disagreeing. There is a difference. She frowns? Ok and? Does she need to have her face in a perfect mask 24/7 especially when being told something negative? She says “ugh this is a lot” when told she needs to rework her personality? Again, ok and?

        Maybe she does need to rework her personality if she wants a promotion. That is understandable. But maybe the LW needs to think if her expectations of how much “negativity” is acceptable?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You’re arguing about something that isn’t the crux of the letter.

          The OP specifically says she is dismissive of coworkers. That’s not okay, at all.

            1. Czhorat*

              Work environments in which employees are constantly negative are toxic and unpleasant. If you’re in any kind of professional position at all and there are any other people working with you then you have to behave in a reasonable and, yes, overall positive manner.

              Otherwise you’re spreading misery and contributing to an environment in which everyone dreads going to work every day,.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But you’re arguing against a straw man. The problem isn’t that she needs to have her face in a perfect mask or smile constantly.

      2. OriginalPoster*

        Yeah, my expectation is not that she’s smiling all day long. I am concerned about someone crossing their arms, scowling, and being dismissive about work she is required to do and towards coworkers trying to work with her. That kind of behavior is happening for totally neutral assignments and expected projects – not towards receiving negative feedback. I think Alison’s advice was spot on for what I’m dealing with.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You don’t disagree with “everyone”.

      Nobody is demanding positivity all the time. Many of us are naturally cranky and aware of it, we are able to adjust and not make our coworkers miserable by it.

      You’re so far off base to start acting like this has anything to do with the problem women have being labeled as aggressive, bitchy or whatever other word is attached to women in the work force. You water down and dilute a huge issue that still needs a lot of repair by bringing it up in such a casual way with so little to base your opinion on.

      1. brighidg*

        Well I clearly disagree with you.

        No I’m not off-base. Like I said above, if a random person told a random woman not to smile/frown it would be considered rude. But her boss gets to do that? Why? Explain why that is necessary for a role that is not customer-facing or an international spy and I will concede the argument. And if it’s solely about the behavior and not about sexism or weird American workplace culture, why include that at all?

        1. animaniactoo*

          Because she has to interact with these specific other people over and over again, day in and day out, and they deserve not to have to deal with her negativity when they do so.

          These are not random people. These are people who regularly interact with each other and it is perfectly possible to be pleasant without smiling all the time. There is even such a concept as a pleasant grump.

          The culture in Germany may suit you better, but this is the culture here and it works for *most* people. There are certainly people in Germany for whom that culture is not a great fit, but they have to try and make it work for them anyway. Because when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. Unless MOST people are unhappy with the Romans, and then you can talk about overthrowing the empire.

          Frankly, working on being *not* grumpy and cranky at work actually helps my mood and overall approach to work and projects that annoy me. If I was given free reign to be grumpy about it, I would be miserable even with myself, just from spilling it everywhere constantly.

          This does not mean I am 24/7 positivity. It means I am something in the range of 70% positivity. I fail to see why having a positive and willing attitude towards work the majority of the time should be considered an imposition so severe we should stop asking it of people who need to interact with each other on a regular basis and would not otherwise necessarily choose to hang out with.

          Perhaps that is really the crux of this – when you go to work, you don’t have a lot of choice about who you hang out with. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to try and generally make that at the least a neutral experience for those who need to interact with you. In the interests of receiving the same.

        2. JSPA*

          Literally one person has said employees sometimes need to “smile more.” And I mean “literally,” literally.
          Search the page for the word “smile”–every hit is in your posts, except for one person who mentions adopting the “Disney Smile,” and one person answering that post to say they don’t like the implications and terminology.

          Nobody’s said, “don’t frown.” Or, “use a rising vocal tone.” Or, “sound cheery.” (Yes, I searched that, too.)

          Being curt and dismissive directly towards people, as interpreted by the local culture, is an action–not a mood, an identity, or a smile. Cultures have different ways of signaling “I don’t respect you,” and some of them accept more curtness than others as neutral behavior, rather than a direct affront. But no culture is free from socially-agreed-upon behavioral guidelines that lie somewhere other than, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

          Good on you, that you found a place where “what you do naturally” generally falls under that culture’s “neutral-to-nice.” But that’s not because Germany magically has no random social peculiarities that people can and do run afoul of, with negative social consequences.

          If you have yet to do so, I can just about assure you that it will happen sooner or later.

          For example, take what you are doing here. Your posts are not merely a defense of passive grumpiness, nor a self-contained contrary spin on the topic. Instead, you’re repeatedly letting us know something along the lines of, “I know what you intend to say better than you do. I know what biases your words hide, even if it’s nowhere written on the page. My interpretation of your intentions and your words resonates with me, and therefore takes precedence over your own awareness of your own intentions.” No matter how mellow your voice and attitudes may be by German standards, I can’t imagine that this sort of thing will fly particularly well in a German cultural setting, either.

          I do think that you have a good point under the straw man, which is that many people’s “deep analysis face” is skeptical or frowning, and that deep analysis should never be discouraged. “Yes men” and “yes women” are dangerous. Natural skeptics are worth their weight in gold–but only provided they turn their skepticism on logic and plans, not on people. Dismissing bad ideas with ease is an excellent talent; dismissing people, as people, for bringing you an idea you find weak, is still a jerk move.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          “if a random person told a random woman not to smile/frown it would be considered rude. But her boss gets to do that? Why?”

          Well, because if a random guy in the street sees me and tells me to smile, that’s entirely about exerting momentary control over me and his opinions about how random women in the street ought to look. But it doesn’t sound to me as though that’s what the OP is talking about in context. She says this:

          “She has expressed interest to me in being promoted and taking on more responsibility with more creative freedom, but when I have brought opportunities to her to take ownership and have more space for creativity, she has reacted negatively both through her body language (literally frowning and scowling in meetings) and through her commentary (“Ugh, this is just asking a lot” and a lot of self doubt and generally defeatist attitude).”

          To me, the OP is using the frowning as one, visual example of the several ways that this person expresses her displeasure with being offered opportunities *that she has asked for*. She doesn’t want her to stop frowning because she thinks it’s ugly, she wants her to stop responding to the opportunities that she has asked for with negativity – because if being offered this type of work is tiresome, annoying and too much work for her (as she is visually and verbally signalling) she shouldn’t ask for it. Not to read too much here, but it sounds as though it’s coming across as though she’s looking for the benefits of additional responsibility (more creative freedom, seniority maybe?) without actually showing she’s willing to do the extra work.

          /not American, FWIW

        4. Observer*

          No, you are disagreeing with a figment of your imagination. You keep on insisting that someone / Alison / people said X and you’re disagreeing with that. But that’s not what anyone said.

        5. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Okay. 1) A boss is not a random person on the street. There are a lot of things I’m not required to do if a rando on the street says so that I *do* have to do if my boss tells me to.

          2) We’re not talking about a boss who wants her employee to be sunshine and rainbows level of positive at all times and never stop smiling. We’re talking about an employee who is being actively rude to her coworkers and her boss. There are ways to be polite and civil to your coworkers that don’t involve pasting on a fake smile and never admitting to having negative emotions. It’s not all or nothing. No one here is saying that the Grump employee needs to turn Pollyanna and never be negative again. What people are saying is that there is a time and a place for negativity, and that a person’s coworkers shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells all the time because they worry that their grump of a coworker is going to treat them badly.

        6. Someone Else*

          This is still a straw man. If I’m your boss and I give you an assignment, and you respond by scowling or saying outloud “ugh, this”, that’s not OK. You don’t have to like the assignment. You don’t have to smile. You can remain entirely neutral physically and say nothing and that would be fine. The unprofessional part is the openly disdainful attitude. Cheerfulness is not required. The absence of rudeness, disdain, condescension is. We’re talking about requiring basic civility.

    5. Elspeth*

      It IS her manager’s job to tell the grump that she has to be pleasant to coworkers and clients. Also, if the grump wants to be promoted, she’s going to have to stop acting so negatively when her boss tries to give her a project that would help her advance.

      1. brighidg*

        Probably but that doesn’t make it right or reasonable. I agree with you on the promotion though.

        1. Elspeth*

          I think it is reasonable to tell the grump she has to be pleasant. The OP is not asking her to be a Pollyanna, or wear a smile all day, every day. She’s asking her to not be dismissive or rude her coworkers. That’s a valid requirement of any job.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          It’s necessary for the survival of the business that all employees treat each other in a civil manner.
          She can smile or not, whichever, because smiling does not matter. I have seen very mean people smile and laugh all the time. They were still mean people.
          A person can be polite and civil and never even begin to smile.

          Yes, an employer can require you to get along with others. It’s necessary for the longevity of the business. One uncooperative, toxic employee can bring an entire business to ruins.

          I am sorry you were treated in a sexist manner. That was wrong. Your setting is different from what OP is talking about.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      I totally agree with you brighidg about the culture of the American workplace that DEMANDS everyone have, or put on fake positivity 24/7 in order to get ahead or be considered a “team player.” I mean, the company could very well be tanking (think Theranos) but God ‘freakin forbid anyone say anything negative about the situation! Honestly, it all feels so phoney and a waste of energy sometimes.

      1. Elspeth*

        I really haven’t found that to be true, at least in all the American workplaces I’ve been.

    7. Marion Ravenwood*

      Whilst on some level this could be a cultural thing (e.g. I, as a Brit, would have accepted the ‘surviving’ response to ‘how are you?’ as fine, whereas some other posters thought it was very extreme, although tone does have something to do with that too), I do think there are some things that cross those boundaries. No-one’s asking this co-worker to make Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life their theme tune, but they are asking for a bit less of the resident little black cloud attitude. Especially given it’s costing this co-worker a promotion she apparently wants and actively making things unpleasant for her colleagues.

      It’s not just the frowning and body language (and I say that as someone who has Resting B**** Face) – it’s that, plus being dismissive, plus turning down work. If it was the occasional bad day, sure, we all have those. But the fact that it’s constant is eventually going to wear people down and dent the co-worker’s standing because she’s not pleasant to work with.

    8. Luna*

      I am in Germany myself, and we do not request people to be constantly cheerful. We do expect people, especially those whose job requires working *with* or *alongside* other people, to be reasonably professional. You don’t have to be smiling, but you really shouldn’t be dismissive, rude, or even aggressive towards your coworkers.

      A good way to see how professional or decent a person is, is to see how they work with someone they couldn’t like on a personal level. Say, if these two people met as strangers and quickly realized after a short conversation that their personalities, views, attitude, whatever, just don’t mesh together, so they go separate ways.
      But that’s not an option when you have to work with them.

      If they manage to remain professional and decent with that person in a work setting, that’s generally a good sign. I’ve had classmates with mutual dislike, but when we were put together to work on a project or an exam, I did my best to not nag at her or complain that I have to work with *her*, etc. I talked politely with her, as I would with any other person. (Incidentally, *her* first words to me were, “Doesn’t matter, this is gonna suck, either way”)

      You tell me: which would you prefer as an employee?
      The one that complains and nags the second she has to do something with someone that is part of her job?
      Or the one that manages to contain their personal dislike, but still get the job done without alienating the coworker?

  34. designbot*

    This has been a really interesting thread for me, because it’s helped me realize something about my workplace. My boss is the opposite of the “I’m a grump!” coworker, he’s the flighty yes-man with no followthrough coworker, and everyone here has just accepted that “oh, that’s just how Willoughby is, we can’t try and change it.” Even in a conversation with a leader last week who was overall very helpful, he was still like, well don’t bother trying to change who Willoughby is, that’s a losing battle. He’s relentlessly positive which also means he refuses to see problems, which means he refuses to fix problems. But I’m going to try some of the language from this post and comments the next time someone’s like, Willoughby’s gonna Willoughby, about it.

  35. hbc*

    I think the expectation for everyone is that we moderate ourselves at work. We don’t have to be Stepford drones, but we need to kind of…set our dials to 7 rather than 10 on whatever song it is that we naturally play. I’m sure The Grump doesn’t want Mary Sunshine doing handstands in her office because she’s Just A Free Spirit or the resident Soul-of-an-Artist accountant decide that doing payroll is too banal.

    1. Observer*

      And what happens when the “free spirit” decides that it’s stupid to “nit pick” details (like what you pay rate actually IS) and that they’d rather be creative about payroll and “mix it up a bit”?

      The bottom line is that there is a time and place for most things AND even more things need to be moderated even in their time and place.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      My wise friend used to say, “When ever ANYONE gives you money something is ALWAYS expected in return.”

      My aunt was going to give 20 year old me $400 to buy good tires. I knew what would be next. Not only would I have to pay her back with interest, I would have to be at her apartment 7 am every Saturday more to scrub it from ceiling to floor. So I simply said no thanks on the loan. She wasn’t just buying my tires, she was buying ME.

      Insurance companies give us money when they pay our health bills for us. In exchange they tell us what docs we can go to, what tests we can and cannot have and what scripts they will let us use at no/small charge.

      Mortgage companies give us money to buy property. They get to come and inspect the property, if there are issues they get to say, “fix it or there is no deal”.

      Any time someone gives us money then something is always expected in return. So it goes with jobs also.

  36. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I’m convinced that a lot of so-called “personality traits” are actually learned behavior. They’ve become an individual’s preferred way interacting with the world and have persisted long enough to feel “natural.” But at some point, they were all learned and reinforced.

    Unfortunately, “Grumpy” has decided that the “personal growth workshop” has given her carte blanche to express herself in a way that feels “natural” to her, but is going to work against her professionally. You need to be as up front with her as possible (maybe in ways that feel “unnatural” to you) and make it clear that her actions are going to cost her. It sounds as though you have specific examples you can cite.

    This is going to be uncomfortable for you, but please remember: “personality traits” are not your business, but behavior is. Grumpy needs to change her behavior. Sooner, rather than later.

    1. OriginalPoster*

      Yes, the conversation here about behavior being something that can be checked and it not being the same as personality has been helpful.

  37. Nicelutherangirl*

    “Marshall Goldmith’s “An Excessive Need to Be Me,”….points out that a rigid allegiance to “being yourself” can sometimes be pointless vanity — and at odds with actually benefiting yourself and the people around you.”

    Love this. Did we even NEED the link to the article? Doesn’t this just drive the point home all by itself?!

  38. Jack Be Nimble*

    A friend of mind dated a guy who insisted that his habit of interrupting and talking over people was just “his communication style,” and talked a lot about how his coworkers just didn’t understand that about him.

    He is now single and unemployed.

  39. Ann Furthermore*

    One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I am a very straightforward, forthright person. And also that this is not always a good thing. It can sometimes come across as condescending, or make it sound like I don’t care, when neither of those things are true. I’ve learned when I need to follow up and soften my delivery, which overall helps me maintain positive working relationships with clients and coworkers.

    For example, while working on a project a few years ago I was discussing the current state and processes with the Finance users. They told me that some project managers would insist that they create invoices or credit memos for literally pennies, to force the balances in the ERP system to tie out to the spreadsheets they used to manually calculate the expenses and revenues for their projects each month. These requests would always come when the users were trying to close the month. Any attempts to push back on that had been unsuccessful. It still baffles me. Why not just make an adjustment in the formula in your spreadsheet?

    It was completely asinine, and I blurted out, “Are you kidding me? That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” I got a few surprised/shocked looks, and I said, “I apologize. That wasn’t directed at you. I’m annoyed on your behalf that you have to spend time doing something so insignificant and that adds no value and creates a bunch of unnecessary busywork for you.” Had I not said that and just plowed forward, there’s a good chance that the users would have thought that I was saying that *they* were stupid, and not realized that I was saying that their process, and all the extra work they had to do, all because of a couple of persnickety PM’s, was stupid.

    Alison, very interesting article, thanks for sharing it!

  40. Iconoclast in California*

    Wait a minute:
    “One team member has so strongly identified with her more aggressive and direct work style…”

    “a crutch to excuse bad behavior like having a negative attitude about her work or being short or dismissive…”

    Female worker, probably male boss.

    This sounds like the workplace equivalent of “Why don’t you smile, babe, you’d look better if you smiled.”

    To many men, if a woman isn’t pleasing, smiling, faking being happy even when being served a sh!t sandwich, she’s “aggressive”, “negative”, “too direct”, “angry”, etc.

    From the sound of it, he’s make the same complaint about me – because I don’t communicate in a stereotypically feminine style.

    Also, “positivity” is usually a code word for “we all pretend that there’s never anything wrong so we aren’t seen as ‘negative’.”

    So yeah, he wants to tell her to smile and talk like a stereotypical woman.

    While it is reasonable to ask an employee not to belittle or insult their coworkers, it is not acceptable to ask them to be “positive” all the time. If a person has a “direct” communication style, then be “direct” with them, but don’t ask them to be mealy-mouthed and softspoken just because they are female.

    Compare what she says with what the guys in the group say. If she communicates the same way they do, they you’ve been sucked into the stereotype trap. Mark her style in your head as “masculine” and see if that changes your perception.

    1. fposte*

      I think the situation you describe exists, but it is by no means the only situation that could fit the OP’s letter, and it’s inappropriate for an employee to repeatedly self-identify as a grump and say “everyone knows that’s how I am” no matter what her or her boss’s gender.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        IMO, “grumpy” can be a defense mechanism (rightly or wrongly) against the “smile, girl” culture. Too little information.

        But the terms “aggressive” and “negative” set off gender bias alarm bells in my head. In men the same behaviors are usually “assertive” and “discerning”.

        1. fposte*

          Even as a defense mechanism, it’s inappropriate. That’s not a viable way to push back against a culture you dislike.

    2. JSPA*

      Except…the worker SELF IDENTIFIES as a grump.

      I have a very direct style. To the point where it sometimes startles and disconcerts people. I’ve had veiled suggestions that I act more like other successful women / soften my logical arguments / agree to disagree when faced with demonstrably, quantifiably wrong ideas. I…frankly don’t. Some prices are too high, and that’s one of them.

      However, I’m very rarely actively grumpy, dismissive or curt; and if I am, I backtrack and apologize. There’s nothing gendered about being an A-hole or using work hours to replay and work through personal problems. Nobody–male, female, both, neither, other–if they expect to be respected and promoted and admired, ought to be a fetid swamp of sucking negativity while on the clock.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        This. I try not to be rude. I am even pleasant to a colleague who treats me (and just about everyone else) with disdain and condescension. He gets away with it, of course, because the culture is very “go along to get along”, so he gets away with being a bully.

    3. OriginalPoster*

      I mean, I can see your concern here but FWIW, I’m a woman and I would have had the same questions for Alison if this employee was male.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        OK. I guess I respond like Pavlov’s dog to phrases like “aggressive” and “negative”. They always bring up red flags to me when applied to women.

    4. Name Required*

      It’s funny that you read this as a male boss. We must have read different letters, because I read the hand-wringing over Grumpy’s feelings as very female.

      Grumpy’s response to “being short or dismissive of coworkers” is “Well, that’s just me. I’m a grump, everyone knows that’s my work style!” doesn’t match up with what you’re pointing out here. If my boss has a talk with me about my frequent snapping at my coworkers, I don’t get the brush it under the rug as a personality quirk no matter my sex.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        IME, even women fall prey to stereotyped expectations of others.

        Rude is not good (being nasty to coworkers or customers.)

        But being direct and not sugarcoating stuff? *shrug*

        Here’s the difference:
        OK: “This project sucks. It has too much work for too little time to do it, and the requirements are too fuzzy. We need to fix this.”
        NOT OK: “Whoever came up with this project is an ignoramus. They don’t know how to plan a project.”

        One is a personal abuse of a coworker, the other is a problem with the project, with reasons.

        1. Name Required*

          There is no perfect world with perfect work. Saying a project “sucks” and “need to be fixed” are judgement statements that aren’t that different than your second statement. Someone scoped that project, after all. So if their project sucks, you’re implying they don’t know to plan a project. That’s not being direct.

          This is being direct: “We can accomplish x or y within this timeframe, but we cannot do both without additional resources. The requirements are not clear to me; can you explain what b and c mean and how success will be measured? We need to resolve these questions before moving forward.”

          1. Iconoclast in California*

            Why does there have to be a question in it? Statements: “The requirements are not well defined, I need to have b and c clarified and know how success will be measured.”

            It is a stereotype thing that women have to ask questions, and indicate uncertainty, men get to state requirements.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Ah and you were then proven wrong when the OP appeared and confirmed they’re a woman.

      As a woman, who has dealt with actual grumpy unpleasant rude women in the workforce over the years, it’s a thing that happens.

      I appreciate that there are also a lot of sexist behaviors and nonsense as well, I’ve seen that too.

      The only person to ever accuse me of being “short” and “snippy” was a sexist man. Whereas every other male boss of mine never once told me to smile or cheer despite my major RBF and general “no-nonsense” attitude when I’m busy making them money.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        I hope you enjoyed saying “Ah and you were then proven wrong when the OP appeared and confirmed they’re a woman.” Everyone likes a bit of smug satisfaction to sweeten their day. I’m glad I could provide you the opportunity.

        Women can fall prey to sexism too. (One of the worst bosses I had that way was a woman. It was bizarre. She expected stereotype female behavior of me because I was female, including smiling.)

        Being rude to coworkers is not being “grumpy”, IMO. It is also not “aggressive” or “assertive”. It’s just plain rudeness. Rudeness is not ok.

        However, the problem comes in when what a man says isn’t rude, but if a woman says the same thing it is.

        This is not always the case, but it is such a common microaggression that I’m a bit sensitized to it. Yes, I’m cynical, maybe overly so.

    6. ER*

      That’s so interesting, Iconoclast in California, because my mind first jumped to the idea that it was a young female manager working with a curmudgeonly older female employee who has been in ‘the system’ too long and has become jaded and cynical, and is so comfortable in their job that they think they can get away with any behavior they feel like. I think it’s fascinating how our minds envisage different scenarios based on our past experiences.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        True. I guess I’m just cynical about certain “personality” complaints that I’ve often seen weaponized against women (not just me, BTW.) Once burned, twice shy.

      2. OriginalPoster*

        It is interesting how things get read based on personal experiences! As noted above, I am a woman. I’m about 15 years into my professional career and this is my first management position. The employee in question is younger than me but has been working long enough in various positions that it can’t be written off as a ‘first job out of college, they don’t understand how you should behave in the workplace’ situation.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Just an aside: I find it curious that we seem expect people who speak directly to be saying something negative.

      “Hey, Bob, nice job on that!”
      “Sue, good catch on the problem with the Smith account.”
      “That new tea pot is our best yet!”

      These are all direct statements. It seems to me that a person who is purely direct would be equally capable of positive statements as well as negative statements, as the point is to be direct as opposed to being negative. If a person cannot ever find a positive thing to say then perhaps they are not direct, perhaps they are just negative.

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        You shouldn’t have to go through a lot of linguistic distortions to say “There is a problem with $foo. We need to do $bar about it.” This is neither positive or negative, except to people who think that pointing out any problem is negative.

        “$server is alerting on $foo. I am going to restart the $bar service.”

        I have had people complain that pointing out the problem is “negative”, when all I said is that it was alerting.

        Yes, it’s irrational. I leave those places.

  41. StaceyIzMe*

    You definitely have to tease apart allowable stylistic issues and bad habits that are self-excused as a stylistic issue. Nobody should be hostile about actually doing their job. That is a reason for a warning, maybe some coaching and a PIP if it continues. It’s in no way a ‘gosh, I want her to feel supported and don’t want to criticize her” issue. Someone who states that they want to be given more responsibility and possibly promoted should have at least a medium high level of emotional intelligence. If they can’t manage their own reactions to their context or their coworkers, that’s indicative of a lack of overall ability to do the job. Speaking of which- is it possible that she requires more “hands on” and would be less unsure/ less grouchy and defensive if you gave her more direct guidance as her manager? Some of her insecurity might be assuaged by having a concrete idea of where the bar is for matters of productivity, professional conduct and overall skill development. People who show up as hostile are often (not always, but often) insecure and defensive.

  42. Drax*

    I also am fairly direct and very no nonsense. Many jobs ago I got the best advice I’ve never forgotten and that is “No matter what you do, part of your job is to play nice with the other kids in the sandbox”. Literally how she said it which in hindsight a little condescending, but as she elaborated on that it means “no matter what your job, it’s part of your job to work nicely with people you work with”

    Action steps for me were taking a minute to talk to people instead of just “here” and leaving, it takes an extra 30 seconds to do niceties (hi, how are ya) but it builds the relationships tremendously. Also tone/delivery. It’s a lot nicer (and received better) to say something like “I am super swamped right now, what did you need from me? I have to get back to this ASAP” Another key point is elaborating tends to help with reception. “That’s a stupid idea” vs “that won’t work because of X, Y, and Z”

    I don’t have to be another person, but I do have to communicate properly and kindly with other people. I don’t have to like them (still hate the former coworker that spurred that conversation many years ago) but I do have to work with them.

  43. ENFP in Texas*

    My username should give some indication about my feelings regarding work style and personality tests. I think they can be helpful in identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM. Using them as a cop-out or an excuse is NOT their purpose.

    I am a pretty strong/stereotypical ENFP. But that doesn’t mean I can get away with blowing off routine tasks or not meeting my deadlines because “that’s how I am”. It means I need to be aware of those tendencies and find ways to address them.

  44. LawLady*

    I think that the lovable curmudgeon is a TV trope that doesn’t work in real life, but which a lot of people like to identify with. I’m thinking of characters like Dr. House (House) or Red Foreman (that 70s show). It plays well on TV, but is really hard to pull off as a real person.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      Yessssssss! I have a growing list of character tropes I can’t watch anymore because I know the agony of being around them in real life. Lovable-curmudgeon, universally-worshiped-insufferable-genius, inexplicably-popular-creep, and…what I can only call, “self-involved emotional vampire who sulks their way to romance and career success.”

      1. Iconoclast in California*

        I work with a “universally-worshiped-insufferable-genius”. He is a bully and an arrogant snot that everyone tolerates and knuckles under to because he “knows so much”. He actually has made my job harder due to his “embrace” of every new fad.

      2. Luna*

        I enjoy the character of House. Blunt and direct really works well with my spectrum because vagueness is just difficult for me to understand what is really meant. But I am also fully aware that, if I were to meet such a person in real life, I could only tolerate them in short spurts.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah. It’s like trying to model ‘how to deal with friends/family’ on sitcoms: without the laugh track, a lot of it just sounds cruel.

    3. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, the problem is that people’s pain is often part of comedy, and what we are laughing at when we watch these characters is the hilarious pain that they put others through – the horrified/confused/outraged faces of the “straight man” character that has to put up with the insufferable character.

      However, as with slapstick, just because it’s funny to watch someone get hit over the head with a mallet doesn’t mean you’d enjoy getting hit on the head with a mallet. Watching the reactions of the people around the jerk is funny – real life having to actually be one of those people isn’t.

  45. Former Young Lady*

    Anyone who champions “100% authenticity” at work has never shared a small office with an “authentic” serial farter.

    I mean, seriously. We all have a freak flag. Fly yours if you must. But prepare to embrace the hard truth: nobody else has to salute it.

    1. Iconoclast in California*


      What I want to know is “How do people hold in farts?” (I’ve never been able to. I just dash to the bathroom.)

  46. Clementine*

    Somehow it sounds less charming to say, “I identify as a jerk”, or “I identify as a ” than “I identify as a grump”. But it sounds like there might not be much effective difference here.

  47. Cat*

    I think I worked with this “grump” and it made everyone miserable. I hated it there and was the main reason people quit. Bad vibes are contagious, especially when someone is higher up than you.

  48. Jennifer Juniper*

    You can always sing this song to her:

    Keep on the sunny side
    Keep on the sunny side
    Keep on the sunny side of life
    You’ll never feel the pain
    As we drive you insane
    Keep on the sunny side of life!

    Or you can say “Good morning! Happy Monday!” before she has had a chance to get her coffee.

    But then, I am an evil person who is an expert on weaponizing cheerfulness.

  49. KR*

    Great advice. I’m grumpy. I like to bitch and moan. But when people ask me to do things at work I say, “Yes okay I will make this work. Happy to help.” And I do it & tell them to enjoy their week because my job is to work well with my coworkers. You can’t self select out of that unless you’re really hot sh!t.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Even if you are a hot shot you can still be friendless if you have bad behavior. It’s funny. My friend knows Very Well Known Person (VWKP).
      The dude is insufferable in every way imaginable. The only fans he has are people who have never met him and just know of him.
      VWKP is elitest, sexist, snobbish, rude, down right insulting, a know-it-all, intolerant of others….. I could go on. But he has a good sized fan club of people who have never met him.

  50. jk*

    Grumps, or ‘miserable gits’ as I call them, make good people leave teams and companies. This will cause you all kinds of stress and the company money in the long run.

    That defeatist, negative attitude will poison your team and take its toll on the more joyful and positive members.

    Usually grumps in the office are failing in other areas in the workplace. I used to work with one who’d roll in at 3pm every day and take advantage of my relaxed boss, in addition to his defeatist attitude. Can you talk to HR and see what your options are? Maybe some kind of improvement plan so you can at least get her behavior in writing.

  51. AeroEngineer*

    I had one of these in my last company. Number one reason why I left was the management’s unwillingness to deal with it and everyone else just laughing awkwardly when there was one outburst or another.

    I am much happier at my new job because of a distinct lack of grumps or people with anger issues.

  52. Snickerdoodle*

    OMG. The dreaded “It’s just how I am” excuse, also known as “I know I’m being inappropriate and don’t care and won’t change; make me.” I have encountered that twice in the workplace and both were met with “Challenge accepted!” from me and subsequent complaints to higher ups that got the misbehaving ass to behave in a hurry. “Surprisingly,” people who “just are!” a certain way suddenly “just aren’t” that way when called out hard enough.

    I also find it interesting that “It’s just how so-and-so is” isn’t just heard from the people doing it, but it’s also used by other people to not acknowledge or deal with the bad behavior. One of the two jerks I mentioned above was friends with my then-boyfriend who pulled the “it’s just how she is” crap with me, and I said “So come she gets a free pass? How she SHOULD be is appropriate and professional; she knows damn well she needs to at least be civil. Why do you make excuses for her and not for me?” He didn’t have an answer for that one. I complained about her treatment of me to the union and never worked with her again. The guy and I later broke up because of his similar behavior in other ways, i.e. making excuses for other people (himself included, of course–that probably explains a lot of people not wanting to deal with bad behavior) and expecting me to put up with it. Good riddance!

  53. Rose*

    This might be one of my biggest pet peeves about personality tests at work. I have seen this so often – people glom onto some part of the test and declare that it excuses their worst impulses. I am also an “aggressive and direct” personality, and as a professional I know that doesn’t excuse being a jerk.

  54. Statler von Waldorf*

    Hmm .. this is an interesting letter for me. If I had to pick one letter from Alison to illustrate the differences between white collar and blue collar workplace norms, this would be a solid choice. I have no doubt that in a white-collar office environment, Alison’s advice would be both diplomatic and correct. In a blue-collar environment, your ability to be pleasant to co-workers is a far distant second compared to your ability to consistently do the actual job. Being pleasant to work with is not completely irrelevant, but if your work output is solid there is far more tolerance for a grumpy attitude.

  55. Luna*

    “Well, that’s just me. I’m a grump, everyone knows that’s my work style!”
    That sounds like the type of person who would use a disorder or an illness as an excuse to be a complete butt, and expect to not be called out on it because they “have this disorder/illness”! And might even cite discrimination if you so much as look at them cross-eyed when they mention it.

    I would probably keep having her work, and any complaint from her will be met with the, “Well, this is my work style. I’m a (perfectionist/assigner/whatever you are) through and through.” Though I doubt she would let the same ‘excuse’ work for someone that isn’t herself.

    “If people are afraid to approach you, you can’t be effective in your role here.”
    And that would also not be someone you would consider promoting to a higher position, remind her of that. Nobody wants to work with/for a grump that refuses to communicate even semi-decently.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I agree. Don’t address whether she is or is not a grump.

      Tell her what behaviors you want to see from her in terms of interacting with her co-workers. Tell her what kinds of behaviors and attitudes earn promotions. Don’t tell her that she isn’t a ‘grump’.

  56. CM*

    Oooo disagree.

    I would 100% not ever say this: “I’ve noticed you frequently say that you’re grumpy or not good with people. I don’t believe that’s true…” If she’s describing herself as a grump and she sees it as a positive thing (or at least not a negative thing) don’t argue about whether she is one or not. It’s really invalidating and it’s going to make her feel personally rejected in exactly the way you want to avoid.

    The main thing I recommend is to steer AWAY from any statements that include a judgement about whether it’s good or bad to be grumpy (which is a feeling or a personality trait and can’t be good or bad in itself) and focus specifically on behavior that’s getting in the way of your goals (meaning the company’s goals, the OP’s goals, the grump’s goals — everybody’s). If she responds by saying “Well I’m a grump and that’s just how I am” I would recommend responding with something that accepts that identification and accepts HER while still explaining why the behavior is problematic. So: “And that can be awesome, but in this particular instance it’s holding you back from achieving Y because X.” Or “And we love you, but in this particular situation I’m worried that it’s causing X to happen because Y.” And it’s fine to be clear about what will ultimately happen if the problem doesn’t get solved. Like, “Ultimately, I have to have a team where people feel safe to share their ideas without judgement (or whatever), and I want you to be part of that, but, if you can’t, then I need to replace you with someone who can.”

    But never, ever, ever, ever, turn it into a debate about whether being grumpy is a good thing or a bad thing (and never imply that it’s a bad thing by telling her you couldn’t possibly see her that way).

  57. Atlas*

    The inability to take on larger tasks and embrace additional work is a mental block, IMO. Many people have a fixed mindset instead of growth mindset. Hard challenges are not met head on and with a can-do attitude. Idk, if this kind of mindset change can be spurred by a manager, the desire can, but any lasting change has to be embraced by the person themselves. IMO being a grump is a side-effect of the lack of internal belief rather than a cause.

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