we have to write deeply personal poems and share them at a staff meeting

A reader writes:

I work for a small values-driven company, and recently there has been an effort to do more relationship building among staff. Ahead of our next all staff meeting, we are required to write a “where I’m from” poem, based on the format of this work by George Ella Lyon.

While it seems like a fine introspective journaling activity, I am uncomfortable with the requirement to write them and share them with our coworkers and leadership. Especially since the instructions state “Make yourself cry a little. It should do that” and “The key is making this as specific and personal as possible.” The suggested categories include “the worst things that you have been told,” “accidents or traumatic experiences,” and “losses.”

I’ve checked out your responses to other reader questions like the mandatory feelings chart, and the mandatory mental health check-in, but wanted to get your insight on this as well. I don’t like the idea of having to write/share poetry at all, much less this type of forced vulnerability exercise. I feel like if I object it’ll be seen as anti-bonding or anti-team building. What do you think?

What the hell! This is really inappropriate to require of people at work.

I mean, if you want to do a poetry exercise, fine. I’m not a fan, and you’re likely to irritate a bunch of other non-fans of such activities, but as long as there are relatively loose parameters, people can decide for themselves how serious they want to get with it … and can do something silly if they don’t want to get personal.

But “make this as personal as possible” and “it should make you cry” and “tell us about your trauma” … my head is exploding.

Are you comfortable pushing back on this? It would be utterly reasonable for you to say, “I appreciate the recent efforts to build relationships among the staff, but this crosses a lot of boundaries for me, and I imagine for some others. I am not comfortable being asked to share traumas or painful personal episodes at work, or being asked to make myself cry during a work activity. Can we reconsider this and either provide an alternative for people who aren’t comfortable with this or let people opt out?”

Ideally you’d get other coworkers to join in saying this with you so that you’re not the sole objector.

It’s true that you might be seen as anti-bonding or anti-team-building. That’s not the worst thing in the world though. Sometimes there’s enough value in speaking up and saying “this is messed up” that it’s worth spending some political capital to do it.

But if you’re not comfortable doing that, I’d just ignore some of these instructions. Write a poem that isn’t personal, that doesn’t talk about trauma. Keep it light, and if you’re called out on it, you can say, “I didn’t have anything more personal that I was comfortable sharing in a work setting.”

This seems to be the year that boundary violations at work have gone off the deep end.

{ 645 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    Well, if you feel like going out in a blaze of glory, my suggestion:

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue,
    This activity is only enjoyable to you.

    But yeah, no, follow Alison’s advice.

      1. Someday poet... I know it!*

        I came to write a long and involved poem about how this is a silly exercise, but you’ve already won the poetry contest :(


        Deep angst and pain
        Feels like I’ll never be the same
        Putting pen to paper
        About the caper
        That stole my will

        Describing how I feel
        Is like making a deal
        For a short term heal
        That feels unreal
        But ultimately hurts

        I’d give anything to avoid
        This inane flood
        Of words like blood
        Flowing about how you toyed
        With my job by making me write this dumb poem.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          I’ve never been asked for inappropriate workplace sharing in poetry form, but I feel like I need to save this for the (apparently inevitable) time that it does happen.

          1. BookishMiss*

            I’d print off the lyrics to, say, “made of scars” or “whistles the wind” or “hurt” and see if anyone caught on.

            1. Free now (and forever)*

              My pain and tears
              Are not your business.
              The thought of sharing them
              Produces dizziness.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        There once was a boss voyeuristic
        Whose tastes in a poem were sadistic
        He wanted the pain
        of employees’ laid plain
        It was unprofessionalistic

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Love it! I like the two together but I think it needs a third verse. Or, stanza? I’ll give it a go:

        Tulips are yellow
        Daisies are white
        I think I’ll be starting a job hunt tonight

    1. Amber Rose*

      I think maybe the next open thread needs a work related poetry topic. I am highly entertained.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            We used to do a lot of haiku…. this from a friend who escaped corporate America:
            Oh no, it’s [$FirstName]
            Run from the slashing red pen
            Damn, need signature…

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              That was from memory, I went back into the archives…final version is
              “Oh no, Marketing!
              Run from the slashing red pen.
              Damn, need signature.”

    2. Merci Dee*

      Violets are blue,
      Roses are red,
      I hope you’re enjoying your chicken, Ted.

      Because “Stranger Things” is really important to me.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Burma Shave! I didn’t just lol, I ROARED when I read that comment!

          And yes, I am old. So old.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Blaze of glory, indeed. My first thought was that I saw this movie recently. The circle. Tom Hanks and Katie Holmes. Her boyfriend wouldn’t live his life in front of the world. Ended up driving off a cliff. People need their privacy.

    4. hiptobesquared*

      Roses are Red,
      I’m not a jerk,
      But I can not will not talk
      about my personal life at work.

      1. Gigi*

        Boom! I’m there with you. I honestly don’t get this at all. As an HR professional whose business partners ask for ‘team building’ help, my exercises alway focus on setting clear expectations and providing feedback in professional and respectful ways- communication flowing all directions- up, down and across lines. Communication should be focused on the work, not private lives!

      2. Scarlet Magnolias*

        I will contribute
        but not with good grace
        just don’t critique
        my resting “b_ _ _h” face

        1. Zona the Great*

          I’m already stitching that into a throw pillow. I’ll send you your royalties in bit coin.

            1. Scarlet Magnolias*

              I’m told to write a thoughtful poem
              My boss described it as a lark
              But all I really want to do
              Is talk about Arya Stark
              I’m usually good with poetry
              Sonnets, haikus and free versey
              But this one kind of frosts my A_ s
              So I’ll channel my inner Cersei

    5. Beth*

      Roses are red
      Violets are blue
      When I was 7 i ate my dog along with my homework
      Is that traumatic enough for you?

    6. AnonEMoose*

      Maybe something like:

      Roses are red
      Violets are blue
      I don’t need to know
      That much about you.


      Roses are red
      Chintz is twee
      I’m not going to tell you
      That much about me.

    7. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

      Love it! You’d be saying what half the people (or more) in the room would be thinking!

    8. Person of Interest*

      There once was a boss from Nantucket
      A poetry assignment? Let’s duck it.
      But she said you must share
      Something personal – do I dare?
      Nope, and to this task I say, “F*** it.”

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    I am from an emotional place
    in which no one has to share
    with those with whom one has a professional, but not personal, relationship
    things that only one’s partner
    or one’s therapist knows

    1. Artemesia*

      Perfect. Or a poem about the puppy you had when you were 8 i.e. something deeply important but not important at all. This is fairly monstrous but I remember the emotional atrocities of the 60s and 70s where this kind of thing was SOP (and awful) — the puppy came in handy then too.

    2. Decima Dewey*

      I am from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

      I have not been there in decades.

      My parents are both dead,

      My brother and I don’t speak.

      I have no partner and don’t want one.

      My branch cannot open without me,

      And I have over two decades in the system.

      Why do I have to write this bushwah?

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      AdAgencyChick, looks like we are both from the same place! What are the odds?! Awesome! Seriously, I love your poem.

  3. The Original K.*

    What is with this trend of forcing people to unburden their souls at work? I feel like we’ve had a number of letters from people whose jobs are making them do stuff like this. Can’t people just do their jobs and go home? There are lots and lots of ways to have team-building activities that don’t involve tears and trauma. Good grief.

    1. Crivens!*

      I often wonder if the people who push for this have done some ~personal growth~ type stuff in their own lives and decided that should happen everywhere, for everyone, in every context.

      Or it’s all a Scientology front.

      1. Jessen*

        I’ve also suspected that they’re the sort of people who have by and large had comfortable lives and assume that everyone else has as well. There’s definitely an attitude I’ve seen that people like child abuse victims, rape survivors, and so forth exist in some sort of nebulous “out there” space where people don’t actually have to think about them. Not sitting in the next cube over.

        I have trauma-related mental health issues and something like this would almost certainly cause some major issues. Even if I was trying to keep it light, just the nature of the assignment would cause problems and make me feel very much not safe in the workplace.

        1. Mary*

          I’ve a friend who talks about working as a tutor at a college where a lot of students are refugees from conflict zones, and the teachers still assign essay titles like, “the worst day of my life”. Like, they’re expecting “the day I failed my exam and how it made me stronger”, and they get, “the day the soldiers set fire to my village and my parents and siblings were killed”. Just completely tone-deaf and awful.

          1. Busy*

            That is truly inappropriate. Why would you ever ask someone to explore their traumas in an essay for English class, work, college entrance, etc? I think that should be a question people should default start asking themselves.

            1. Equestrian attorney*

              This is so sad. I remember a German class in high school where the topic was “things I like to do with my father”. We had a list of activities like hiking, cooking, etc. for vocab purposes. We each give our awkward little speech until it’s this one girl’s turn, and she blurts out “I do don’t anything with my dad because he died two years ago” and then runs out crying. We all felt so awful and I’m more mindful of these kind of seemingly innocuous topics now.

              1. Lora*

                This happened to me when I was in elementary school, several times. Teachers didn’t really knock it off until junior high, when there was both a great many more kids of divorced parents and foster kids / adoptees in the classes.

              2. Gumby*

                The first place my mind went when I heard “deeply personal poem” and “make you cry” was the poem in Geraldine Moore the Poet. Though that teacher didn’t mean to draw that out (and the assignment wasn’t tailored that way either).

                For this assignment I might bring that in and claim I misunderstood that we were supposed to *find* a deeply personal poem rather than *write* one. But that is taking “answer the question you wish was asked rather than what was asked” a little far.

          2. Jessen*

            I had some experience with something similar – it wasn’t a work assignment but related to a religious membership class, and I really got the sense the person in charge just hadn’t imagined that the subject might be traumatic for some people. The pushback I got was definitely around the idea that in her mind it was a very simple assignment and there’s no reason why an adult should have any trouble with it.

            I think if it happened now I’d push back a lot harder, but I really wasn’t in a mental state to do so at the time. Someone who is actually triggered by something like this won’t be in a good spot to defend themselves.

          3. A person*

            I am angry they are still pulling this crap at colleges. And now the workplace too??!? 25 years ago I got one of these writing assignments and wrote the entire essay on how horrible it was to force people to write an essay about the worst day of their life for a grade.

            I got an A but clearly people who think this is a great idea still haven’t gotten the point.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              If you still have that somewhere, you might consider sending it out into the world as a public service announcement.
              (Deleted sorrowful story from my childhood that explains why I would appreciate the essay.)

          4. Clorinda*

            As an English teacher, whenever I assign an essay on a personal topic, I always clarify that (1) the students have total control over the content, and should only write what they feel comfortable sharing with me, (2) if anyone chooses to write on a different topic, that’s fine, and (3) it’s okay to fictionalize the topic. Students generally do very good work when writing about themselves, but you never know what kind of topic is going to activate a traumatic memory. I learned this when I assigned “a childhood pet” and got a pile of essays about dead dogs.

            1. SusanIvanova*

              “a pile of essays about dead dogs”

              Ah, you had a class full of future Newbery winners.

                1. Aveline*

                  Garden and Gun magazine has a feature in each issue that is essentially tear jerking stories about people’s dead dogs. Like a Dog’s Purpose, but actually well written.

              1. Mephyle*

                Re future Newberry winners. Perfectly captured by Gordon Korman, in his No More Dead Dogs. (Don’t worry, it’s a not a book about dead dogs, but a funny book about books about dead dogs.) The key quote that makes me laugh every time is when the main character says, “Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.”

                1. Public Facing Librarian*

                  I KNOW! Read Because of Winn Dixie. Spoiler alert. The dog does not die.

                2. Anita Brayke*

                  Hahahahaha!!!! “Trust me, the dog is going down.” Priceless!

                  That said, I won’t watch animal movies or read books with animals on the cover, and wouldn’t when I was a child, because the damn animal ALWAYS dies! Except Milo and Otis. My kids watched that endlessly, and as I recall, no one dies.

          5. Elizabeth West*

            OMG that’s horrid.

            Yeah, I think they’re looking at it as some kind of inspirational, I-learned-from-failure motivational thing and forgetting that people have actual trauma.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              I would be tempted to write a fictional account with very specific, horrifying details. Make it long and excruciatingly uncomfortable to listen to. Then at the end, write: “Well, you wanted something about trauma and loss. This was entirely fictional; I hope you learned something from this little exercise.”

        2. Ellen*

          As a survivor on a number of levels, in a number of ways, I’d be tempted to go all in, full tilt graphic on this stuff, including the aftermath that was also not pretty or copacetic and finishing with to be continued, because, as is often the case, lightning can and will strike the same person twice, and these odds are way past “lightning strike”.

        3. Amethystmoon*

          Yeah, probably. Not many people seem to realize that others may not have had supremely perfect happy, clappy childhoods. There is no way I would want to share a lot of stuff about my childhood at work to a large group of people. I don’t even talk about things like that in Toastmasters speeches.

        4. Hills to Die on*

          Exactly. If I REALLY bared my soul and past trauma, nobody would ever be able to make eye contact with my comfortably again. I try not to hate people who do this, but it’s not working yet.

        5. TootsNYC*

          I think they also perhaps have the imagination or compositional ability to think of things to talk about that aren’t that personal.

          When these sorts of things come up, I can always think of something that’s revealing but not THAT personal and vaguely work related. (I confess to sometimes rolling my eyes and thinking, “of course no one expects you to reveal your deepest trauma–pick something else, like the time you felt left out at summer camp.” Just because someone asks you a question, you don’t have to take it to the farthest extreme; the reactions sometimes feel like a form of the straw man argument.)

          But…that’s a definite skill! And not everyone has it. I can come up with a summer-camp story, but a lot of other people really can’t.

          1. MayLou*

            If someone says “write about the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to you” then you’re going to think about that thing, even if you are able to find an alternative topic to actually write about. It’s unnecessary to the point of cruelty to require people to relive trauma in the name of “team building”. I’m pretty sure that surviving a devastating fire is a bonding experience for the people who go through it but that doesn’t mean that arson is a good activity for the staff meeting.

            1. MostlyHarmless*

              My worst day was the day my mother died when I was just turned 14. When the teacher in high school asked us to write about the worst day and then we would read them out, I certainly didn’t want to share it. However, anything else (even fictionalized) would be a betrayal because nothing could match that. I sat frozen but eventually put a few sentences down of something inconsequential. The first girl called on had almost lost her mother but she had recovered. It clearly made the teacher think as she did not then ask anyone else to read out their work.

          2. Mayati*

            Part of the problem with the way trauma can manifest is that trauma survivors don’t necessarily have control over whether, when, and to what degree they relive it. Some of us experience spirals of intrusive thoughts where we try over and over to “solve” or “fix” the trauma, whether we want to go down that mental path or not, which is extremely disruptive to our workdays. Some of us get flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and physical symptoms. Some of us just become acutely aware that the people who have power over us at work are insensitive to our trauma, which for survivors of child abuse or other interpersonally oppressive situations is particularly awful, because it reminds us of the harm we suffered at the hands of callous people with power over us, even if our current bosses are well-meaning and not themselves abusive. And many of us who have been taught to lie about or cover up our trauma would feel like coming up with a “summer-camp story” is a further lie that perpetuates the abuse or other harm — for instance, a survivor of child sexual abuse who has gotten to the point of talking openly about their experiences might never want to be in a position again where they’re denying what happened.

            As for me, I know I would be unable to come up with anything more comfortable than The Trauma. It would be all I could think about, when faced with a request in those terms. I’m actually struggling to do it right now, and I’m in a pretty good mindset today! It’s very “but aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I agree with you–because I haven’t experienced any particularly deep trauma, the difficulties you spell out are invisible to me.

              Now, I have some effing manners, and I would never think about asking someone to revisit trauma, or even “the worst thing you have ever been told.” I also have some imagination, and I can think of things that people wouldn’t want to say.

              In this case, these people are just idiots or something, with their suggested categories include “the worst things that you have been told,” “accidents or traumatic experiences,” and “losses.”

              But I can also see someone with a background like mine–and less imagination and fewer boundaries—saying, “Make it personal and revealing–help us get to know you better.”

              Of course, that’s not what they did.

          3. Hey Jude*

            Also, there are employers who mean just what they said. I had one who, in the name of “team bonding,” announced with no advanced notice that during team lunch we would each devise a line graph highlighting all our emotional highs AND LOWS thus far in our lifetime. I immediately said (in front of the entire team) that I would not participate, as my personal life is private and not an appropriate topic for work. He said, “Oh sure, sure,” which I took to mean he had actually heard what I’d just said. So, since the others would be occupied with their graphs for about ten minutes, I decided to turn back to my computer and finish off a work thing real quick. As soon as I turned around, my employer told me “remember you have to complete your line chart!”

            We had JUST HAD THAT CONVERSATION not 10 seconds earlier. I was so floored I was speechless. So I realized my only way out was to “creatively interpret” this stupid assignment, and I took 2 minutes to draw a straight line and highlight a few biographical details (graduated high school, graduated university, moved to City, etc.) that they would already know. I skipped my entire childhood and provided no details that wouldn’t belong on a resume.

            Sharing time was excruciating. I got to see our intern burst into tears because he’d lost his father to cancer only a year earlier. There was no point in bringing that up again for him at work. And I’m fairly sure that the intern felt pressured to share not only because he was on the bottom of the totem pole, but because he’d just seen me attempt to abstain and fail. We only had minutes to come up with a response to this invasive demand; I can’t really fault anyone who couldn’t come up with a self-protective solution when put on the spot.

            This employer was the same guy who fired an employee for getting cancer a year later, so yes, he was actually just that awful. You can’t rely on normal propriety or charitable interpretations of what they said with people like that.

      2. Aveline*

        This is the type of personal growth exercise for people who’ve experienced some unpleasant things, but no real personal deep trauma. I’ve never seen this from people with real, substantial trauma.

        I’d provide bias with a list of statistics including the rates of sexual assault, child abuse, and PTSD among soldiers.

        I’m sure whomever is dreaming this up is thinking that they will hear about when Jane’s pet rabbit died and when Bob lost his team the state championship.

        This can only come from a place of insulated privilege. Even if the privilege is simply never having one of the big bads happen to them.

        1. Aveline*

          Also, as someone who’s worked with a lot of individuals with post dramatic stress disorder, this sort of thing is a big no-no. You never know what kind of spiral this could send someone into if they’ve had real trauma and worked hard to get To a point where they can walk out the door and go to work every day without experiencing emotional pain.

          I’ve also worked with a bunch of people who’ve had various physical and mental conditions where this sort of exercise would be very detrimental to their treatment plan.

          I’m rage screaming inside about how insensitive this is to people who value privacy and potentially harmful it could be to many.

          A not insubstantial percentage of people will simply lie and obfuscate.

          1. Busy*

            I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 22. If someone would have asked me to do this exercise at even 25? I would have went full level flight and never went back to work again. In my life right now, that seems dramatic – and it is! But I was in a dramatic state of mind then. Why trigger someone like that when people with PTSD that particularly occurred from a trauma doing daily normal things (getting in a cab and kidnapped) who can be triggered by every day daily activities?

        2. Jessen*

          I think there’s often a major class bias involved. Middle class, white collar people see these as the sort of things that happen to poor people in bad neighborhoods, which in their heads is a different category of people than the ones they work with. The statistics by themselves don’t sink in because it just reinforces how awful the lives of “those people” are.

          1. Busy*

            I do not believe this is true. ALL of my middle-class raised female friends have That Story.

            It is mostly males who do not.

            1. Get educated*

              You think males have no traumatic stories? Or for that matter cannot be survivors of sexual assault? Really?

            2. Batgirl*

              I think Jessen means that there are middle class people without any traumas who wrongly assume it’s only a poor person thing (and that those people don’t grow up to get the same jobs as them)

              1. Jessen*

                Right, something like that. It’s not all middle class people by any means, or even most. And I don’t think it’s a conscious assumption so much as a sort of subconscious bias. But people’s stereotypical (poor and usually non-white) victim in their heads often means they don’t connect statistical data with the fact that they are probably working with someone with a traumatic past.

              2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                And we know how wrong that is.
                Upper middle class childhood, attended 10 family funerals between my 9th & 11th birthdays

          2. Asenath*

            I don’t see it as any kind of class bias, or lack of awareness of the really terrible traumas so many people have gone through. I think it’s largely an issue of boundaries. There are people who don’t seem to have any, who think this sort of request is not only perfectly normal, but that everyone who isn’t just like them MUST go through any and all exercises intended to make them “normal”, as happy as the team leader is to have no boundaries at all about what in their past they share with anyone who asks. Maybe the team leader gets a bit of encouragement from half-understood scraps of pop psych they’ve imbibed. Maybe they’re encouraged by being in a “values-driven” company to think that their own values regarding sharing are all-important in creating a like-minded workforce. In my experience with similar requests, I’ve noticed that the proponents often expect everyone to have the same levels of comfort with sharing, of outgoing behaviour, and if they don’t, well, the outliers will conform after doing the exercise. They hope. A lot of us will refuse, or fake it.

            1. TootsNYC*

              or they don’t have enough imagination to picture that anyone WOULD be “not like them.”

              (earlier I said they have enough imagination to be able to come up with some not-so-traumatic story, but maybe it’s a superficial imagination)

            2. Lissa*

              There’s also a really big assumption going on in this thread that people who are comfortable with (or suggest) this sort of thing have never experienced trauma – not accurate in my experience. People respond very differently and we shouldn’t need to go to “people might have trauma” to explain why this is a bad idea. That’s not going to be a useful framework for everyone, someone could easily say “so? So have I and I don’t mind.”

          3. MK*

            I don’t know, I am middle-class and have lived a pretty trauma-free life so far and I find these offensive and uncomfortable. I would have nothing to contribute to an activity that is about sharing loss (the only people I have lost are 90-plus-year-old grandparents) and the only time I remember crying is when I didn’t get into a post-law-school graduate course. Writing about such things would make me feel rediculous and be an insult to people who had suffered in more significant ways.

            Also, writing poetry (even bad poetry) is hard!

            1. Asenath*

              Well, small suffering is as real as big suffering – it’s not like there’s some kind of limited supply of suffering and you have to be careful not to take more than your share!

              Maybe it’s an age thing…but I don’t think I have had a particularly traumatic life, but there have certainly been unpleasant parts of it – more relatives and friends lost to death than you (which is why there might be an age component to take into consideration if we were to actually compare suffering), and disabilities and diseases as well (not including the fatal ones). Job loss. Non-physical health issues. And so on. Most of my friends and family (well, the surviving ones) have also had their troubles.

              But the point isn’t really whether middle class people suffer, or whether they shouldn’t mention their suffering because others have it worse. It’s whether anyone, of any background whatsoever, should be required to discuss the worst times in their lives with a bunch of acquaintances at work. It’s a boundary issue.

              The poetry aspect just makes it worse – of course, poetry is probably one of the hardest types of writing to do, and many people aren’t comfortable writing poetry.

              1. Aveline*

                Small suffering is as real. But it’s not necessarily as traumatic.

                There’s a big difference between the “normal” things life throws at you and the extraordinary traumas.

                All trauma is suffering. But not all suffering is trauma.

                1. Asenath*

                  No, it’s not the same, but it’s also not the case that middle-class people haven’t been affected by trauma, or that, if they haven’t, they should be expected to share poems about the suffering they have endured (or are currently enduring).

        3. fposte*

          And I imagine also this is a tightly controlled schedule, so I’m picturing the bosses cutting somebody off mid-narrative of, say, their losing their family and friends and managing to survive in the Rwandan genocide. “Sorry we didn’t get to the murder of your mother, but we have to move on to Ted’s last football game.”

            1. valentine*

              “It was a team exercise and several people complained you hogged the floor. Consider this a warning.”

              In the Lyon poem, which I dislike and doesn’t move me, the traumas aren’t even theirs, so you could always write about how you felt about a news story. I would resist, though I’m tempted to compose “Upon the loss of my respect for TPTB and the impending incandescent rage when I learn your family say Such Things to you”.

        4. Antilles*

          I’m sure whomever is dreaming this up is thinking that they will hear about when Jane’s pet rabbit died and when Bob lost his team the state championship.
          100% agree; the boss suggesting this is definitely assuming he’s going to hear fairly minor, run-of-the-mill stuff.
          In fact, if actually someone *did* come out with a major serious story of assault or abuse or similar horrific trauma, I’m betting the boss wouldn’t have a clue what to say and would probably just go with an awkward apology and quick subject change “well, uh, really sorry to hear that, um so, yeah, moving on…”.

          1. Aveline*

            I was once in a group of professionals when this type of exercise came up. One member there was elderly and Japanese American. Guess what her story was about?

            Several of her family members were among the1,862 individuals who died from disease in the camps.

            This is one of those moments where I want to hit these idiots upside the head with the Louisville Slugger of Truth and Empathy.

            Don’t ask probing questions when you really don’t want to know the answers.

            1. Sara without an H*

              Aveline, you win the thread.

              I am now going out to get my very own Louisville Slugger of Truth and Empathy.

          2. AnotherRedHeadGirl*

            Because the harsh truth is that people do not realize that those children one hears about in the news…pulled from horrific situations, members of the huge numbers of trafficked and exploited minors…might be the adult in the cubicle next to them. It is unbearable socially. Goes back to Freud. He couldn’t bear the thought of the abuse occurring so buried the knowledge of the body, trauma and memory…

        5. goducks*

          You’re spot on.
          I guarantee they don’t want to hear about real trauma. I bet the event leader would freak if someone wrote a poem detailing their childhood sexual abuse or such.
          The thought of someone asking people to share such deeply personal trauma just churns my stomach. The activity is so triggering for so many people, and could result in someone facing a real mental health crisis.

          1. JJ Bittenbinder*

            Either that, or it’s someone who has had such trauma and is lacking enough in boundaries to really want to share that trauma with others in the wrong setting. I’ve definitely met those people before as well.

            1. Anonny*

              Oh, I used to be the creepy* kind of traumatised person, and if I’m honest, sometimes you’re just sitting there watching in horror as it all pours out of your mouth.

              * Like, you kind of wind up weirdly and sometimes gleefully obsessed with what caused your trauma as some kind of coping strategy and everyone gets freaked out. Including yourself. It’s not fun.

        6. Karen from Finance*

          Oh abso-fucking-lutely, this.

          I have actually done some slam poetry to deal with my depression in the past and I can 100% guarantee you they would not want me reading that in this type of place. They want you to go about how tough it was when your brother stole your teddy bear.

          These people make me mad.

        7. Parenthetically*

          “Make yourself cry a little” YEP they’re absolutely expecting “Oh it was so awful when Betsy was voted prom queen instead of me! Woe, woe for my lost youth!” not “And then the relative who had molested me for a decade died.”

          1. Iris Eyes*

            But see they did specify something that made you cry “a little” not something that would cause you to break down into hysterics or something. *eyeroll* such a bad idea

      3. Bagpuss*

        This is horrific and totally inappropriate.
        I am fortunate that I *haven’t* suffered any of major traumas Jessen and Aveline mention and I would not be OK with any of this.
        To be honest, it would be my hill to de on. I’m not sharing my private, personal griefs and I don’t want to be any part of an exercise which puts anyone else under pressure to expose things they may not be comfortable sharing.

        OP, If you think your manager would be receptive, push back and suggest that they change the exercise, pointing out that not eveyone is going to be comfotable with forced intimacy of this kind.
        If you don’t think they will be receptive, maybe speak to some of your collegues and agree that you will all stick to work-related issues.
        5 or 6 poems about the frustrations of the server crashing or the photocopier exploding in a puff of toner….
        Or somthing totally ridiculous, like the suffering you experienced because Tom Hiddleston (or other celebrity of your choice) has not yet appeared to sweep you off your feet..

        1. Ophelia*

          I would 100% write an excruciatingly long and wordy epic poem to the day I had to undo a copier blockage twice.

          1. Someday poet... I know it!*

            And deliver a moving performance of the poem, with a single tear running down your cheek.

    2. Sharon*

      It’s crazy. As a professional, I struggle to maintain high EQ, which sounds to me (based on what better professionals than I have told me) to never show any negative emotions at work. I never feel the need to cry, but do struggle to not show annoyance and general grumpiness at times. Now there are companies that encourage negative emotions at work? WTF?

      1. Washi*

        Ugh, yes, I completely agree. My last job did a lot of this kind of thing (though not quite so bad) and not coincidentally, there were a lot of issues with drama and boundaries, because it was encouraged for people to be friends and bring personal stuff to work. People got the impression that being professional in difficult circumstances = being fake. I don’t think people should be emotionless automatons at work, but I also think there’s a balance to be struck between under and oversharing.

        And I say this as someone who likes team activities! But it needs to be thoughtfully done, and tie into work.

          1. Pebbles*

            I don’t know about you, but unburdening all my personal drama and horror stories about my life is not usually how I go about making friends.

            1. Not Joseph Conrad*

              I do not agree with the tactic of making people share personal drama. But Washi implied that it is wrong to encourage people to be friends, and I disagree with that.

              1. Washi*

                I don’t mean friends as in friendly with each other, I mean friends as in, hang out frequently outside of work and share very personal details with each other. It was a nonprofit startup where everyone was under 35 and no one was married or had kids, and they were very much cultivating an atmosphere of work being a replacement for an independent social life.

                At my current job, I’m very friendly with my coworkers, we eat a lot of lunches together, and every once in a while, we meet up after work to celebrate something a few times a year. That’s my preferred level of relationship with coworkers. We don’t need to be friends, we just need to work with each other pleasantly.

                1. SarahTheEntwife*

                  Yeah, being close friends with coworkers is great when it happens naturally and people can maintain appropriate boundaries at work. But when a workplace *encourages* friendship rather than collegiality, that’s a giant red flag.

                2. Pebbles*

                  Yep. I’ve been at the same place for almost 18 years. Lots of others here have just as much if not a few more years working for this company so I’ve known my coworkers for a long time. I’m friendly with lots of them, I LIKE a lot of them, but I only count a few of them as my friend. I’ll go have lunch or after-work happy hour drinks with my coworkers as a work-sponsored outing, but I won’t make plans to see them on the weekend or call them up just to chat. It’s the difference some people make between “friends” and “Facebook friends”.

                3. The Original K.*

                  Right – and the thing is, when people want to be “real friends” at work, it tends to happen organically. You spend enough time with people and sometimes friendships emerge. You can’t force friendship by sharing trauma (you can’t force friendship at all, really). If someone has earned your trust enough for you to WANT to share your trauma with them on your terms, that’s one thing, but people aren’t going to become friends because their bosses made them write poems.

    3. ragazza*

      I wonder if this is an unfortunate and misguided result of the “bring your whole self to work” concept. Which…I think you can bring your whole self without baring your soul to coworkers.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I think this is the biggest factor, personally. A lot of well-meaning managers read one too many woo-woo articles about encouraging authenticity and wholeness at work, and are overzealously trying to force that with this sort of invasive BS.

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I’m wondering if it’s at all connected to the uptick in mental health awareness. And just really, *really*, REALLY missed the mark when it comes to implementation.

        1. Sabina*

          To me it looks like a push to have employees create and share “feelings porn” and it’s gross and unprofessional.

      3. Sara without an H*

        I think you’re right. And the only reason I haven’t been hauled away from my office in handcuffs is that I DON’T bring my whole self to work…

        1. Jadelyn*

          Them: bring your whole self to work!

          Me: tells an annoying coworker to f*ck off, openly complains about a client being a pain in the ass, puts up weird art on my office walls

          Them: no not like that.

    4. Annette*

      I don’t mean to sound pessimistic but if you work at a place like this. There is likely no hope for you. People who want soul bearing at work have always been inappropriate loons. But now have learned nonsense therapy lingo (e.g. “self care” that is really some work activity) to justify/market it. Tale as old as time.

    5. Lynca*

      One of our new managers is going hard into team-building. I get the feeling there’s some kind of book/other advice that’s pushing this as the be all, end all of team-building. The big thing seems to be about how you need to make yourself ‘vulnerable.’ Which the manager (and grand boss) literally said and I’m not sure what they think they gain from that. Or really what they want ‘vulnerable’ to mean.

      I’d be pushing back very hard on anything like the OP describes and I love poetry.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        They are introducing the concept of vulnerability in the workplace incorrectly. It doesn’t mean the same when we are talking about it from a work relationship EQ standpoint, and again this goes back to my point that the average leader shouldn’t be the person introducing this- it should be someone who is trained in this sort of thing.

        1. Washi*

          Right. I approve of “vulnerability” (though that’s not the word I would pick) when it means “admit you don’t know things instead of BSing, and be open to trying new things.” Not “expose personal trauma as an inappropriate shortcut for professional bonding.”

      2. AnonEMoose*

        Personally, when someone says they want me to be more “vulnerable” at work, my immediate thought is that they are searching my back for the ideal location to stick the knife. But I am not the most trusting person out there.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          LOL! Who knows what they actually mean.. it really means (in a really simplified explanation) to be self-aware in moments of weakness- failure, mistakes, etc and to meet those failures with a sincere apology that is rooted in self-reflection and the confidence (vulnerability) to recognize their need for growth. It is really more about leaders doing this than the average employee.. it is about leaders admitting they messed up and still can learn and grow.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Oh, I’m all in favor of creating an environment where people can be safe in saying “I messed this up, this is how it happened, and what I intend to do to mitigate/fix it. I’m sorry my actions caused difficulty for you, is there something I can do to improve the situation?”

            It’s just that “vulnerable” is one of those words I’ve seen thrown at people (especially women) when someone is looking to manipulate them, and they’re not falling for it. Or when the woman (usually, in my experience) is confident or assertive, and someone’s threatened by that. So for me, it’s one of the words and phrases that tells me “Yep, someone’s up to something.”

            1. LaDeeDa*

              I totally agree, since the concept of vulnerability was introduced — mostly by Brene Brown, people are throwing it around and miss using it. It truly doesn’t mean how people are using it- it is less about other people vulnerable to you- it’s you being vulnerable to yourself- self-awareness, taking down the blind spots that are blocking the areas you need to improve, and understanding you can still learn, grow, change.

            2. kelmarander*

              YES! I have read more than one “leadership” book that suggests our team can be stronger by creating a safe place for us to be vulnerable with one another. It gives me the oogies, kind of like when I had to change in front of everyone in the girls’ locker room (sorry, there I am over-sharing my childhood trauma again!).

              One instance that sticks out for me was when I attended training based on “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team,” in which I was reminded that we’ve all been children so we can bond on that shared experience. Well, we all breathe oxygen and brush our teeth, too—at least, ideally. I can’t say I trust the IT guy any more now that we all know he went to junior prom stag.

              If I have to create one more Circle of Safety in which my manager tells me to forgive myself for failing calculus or sit through one more meeting about how everyone’s pet hamster died while they were at sleep-away camp, I may spontaneously combust.

              1. fposte*

                And I went through a building-wide exercise with people where we talked about such things in regard to our *work,* and it did make us closer. No need to get into personal tragedy.

            3. Sara without an H*

              When directed to a woman, “vulnerable” means “submissive to male executives.”

              1. Lora*

                +1000 THIS THIS THIS

                I’ve only EVER been lectured on vulnerability and approachability by white dudes who are irked that I may have alluded to their potential misunderstanding on some particular detail.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  Or (in my case) when refusing to take on some unpleasant drudgery they wanted to off-load onto me. Inappropriately, of course.

            4. Anonybus*

              This has been my experience as well. I have a deep aversion to this kind of prompting for oversharing because it has generally turns out to be someone looking for some kind of vector of control.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yep, that’s been my career motto for the last 20 years – “don’t give your colleagues dirt on yourself” – after I did give dirt on myself to one coworker, and she turned around and used it in ways that could’ve potentially ended really badly. (Yes, I am one of those people that can only learn from their own mistakes.)

    6. Antilles*

      Yeah, I was wondering about that too.
      I’m just here to do my job, build teapots, and make money to pay the mortgage. No more, no less. I don’t see how knowing about your childhood cancer or the traumatic experience of watching your father die or whatever helps.

    7. InfoSec SemiPro*

      There’s a bunch of the good cutting edge management stuff around high productivity teams coming from groups where people feel psychologically safe and that they can be their authentic selves.

      Good managers can absolutely create these environments. Where staff can take risks comfortably and grow quickly as a result, because they feel secure and supported and know that whatever brought them here, they are trusted to do good work.

      Bad managers can try to demand emotional transparency that they aren’t entitled to. It ends up doing the opposite of what is actually helpful, because demanding trust is a way to demonstrate that you aren’t trustworthy in any other way. Like most things, cargo culting a behavior doesn’t actually create the culture or environment that gives the actual benefit.

      1. Legal Eagle*

        You raise some interesting points. Virtually every team-building exercise that gets mentioned on this site involves a psychological or physical horror show and I well understand why people are loathe to participate. It makes me wonder: what are the hallmarks of good team-building efforts? In fact, are there any good team-building efforts? Can anyone share examples?

        1. Elaine*

          Our annual team retreat always includes a team-building exercise. They are typically based on improv exercises and involve an actual job-related problem or situation. E.g., a team of 3 people answer a question of what to look for in a new hire. One person starts, and at a signal from the emcee another person continues, and so on until a complete answer is obtained. You might get a serious answer or a funny and impractical one.

          The important point is that it is VOLUNTARY. No one has to participate, but everyone wants to because it is fun.

        2. EH*

          The stuff I’ve done that has been genuinely teambuilding in effect has usually involved bringing in all the folks who work remotely or from other offices and doing some kind of knowledge transfer (either within the team or with a second team), followed by a group dinner. Getting facetime with people I usually only see on video calls is hugely helpful.

          But in those cases, “teambuilding” was a secondary benefit to whatever we were actually doing (writers and video trainers sharing techniques, a new team joining our department getting a look at what we do and showing us what they do, etc).

          I genuinely cannot remember a single “teambuilding” qua “teambuilding” activity that actually had that effect. Mostly they are awkward. (sometimes that means we bond over how much we hate the activity, so that’s something?) Some have been fun for me personally but made me wonder a bit about folks who might’ve felt excluded (ziplining and paintball, most recently).

        3. Default Font Size*

          My company teambuilding events are usually based on supporting a charity. Our marketing team spent a day with a local nonprofit helping them with various marketing issues – outlining a marketing plan for the year, brainstorming a fundraising event, communications plan for an already-planned fundraising event.
          Our finance and sales people spent a day at a local school for special needs students, painting and assembling furniture.

        4. Lora*

          Best one I’ve seen: do a project where people represent their department on the project team. In my field, that means one medicinal chemist, one or two biologists, one molecular person, one crystallographer, one toxicologist, one assay developer etc. Team should be relatively small, no more than a dozen people at most and preferably less.
          ^My current department is like this; there’s not many duplicates of any one person’s skillset. It works pretty well.

          Second best: short projects where someone from another department is embedded in a different department for at least a few weeks. They travel to wherever the other team is and work side by side with them on some project and learn everything about the details of how that site operates first hand.

        5. Gumby*

          I, personally, loved the annual retreats at my former job but those involved activities which are widely decried here: scuba lessons, whitewater rafting, kayaking, a ropes course… To be fair: we broke into groups for these and there were different activities for the “non-swimmers” group (not that it was called that). And the “less physically challenging activity” group (people who had indicated that they wanted to opt out of other activities). It was always fun to come back together at the end of that day and find out what other groups had done.

          We also enjoyed kind of nerdy challenges like “build a raft that can hold a person using just these (entirely insufficient) materials” – which no one did, or “get your team from one side of the web to another without using any opening more than once” – which several teams finished successfully, and “move this paint can but you can’t actually get close to it (taped off a random perimeter) and also don’t jostle it too much” – also had success here. Treasure hunt / puzzlehunts were popular. We would have *loved* escape rooms had they existed then. So that probably doesn’t work for every situation. The thing is that you need to know your team a little to start – these worked for our mostly-recent-college-grads-friendly-nerds office. They’d be less successful many other places.

          1. Safetykats*

            I’m guessing that physical activities and retreats in general are more popular with a younger, more active set. By the time you get a little older you are more likely to have physical limitations. Plus, once you have kids you’re more likely to be inclined to spend off-work time on family things – or for it to be a significant inconvenience or even hardship for one partner/parent to be absent for an extended period of time (as for a retreat). It looks less like an opportunity and more like an imposition.

        6. InfoSec SemiPro*

          Voluntary social activities, assorted. Some where management shows up, some without. Active, quiet, in the office, out of the office, durning the day, at night. Something for everyone, including nothing.

          An ongoing expectation that team members will share work frustrations and solutions with each other. That we’re pretty all in when someone needs help.

          Management demonstration of respect for people’s lives. “Bob had an emergency come up, so Alice is going to step in on the llama project and the teapot project is going to be backburnered.” Where Alice gets a benefit for helping a team member in need and Bob doesn’t get penalized for needing help.

          The best is doing good work together. Management can help by making sure people get supported chances to work well together on meaningful work. Nothing builds respect for others like knowing your success would not have happened without them.

          But these aren’t games you can print out and make everyone do in an afternoon. This is management work. Ongoing, basically daily, planned investment in your team’s ability to function.

        7. Vicky Austin*

          At my old job, we often had this (completely voluntary) exercise where we wrote down random trivia about ourselves (i.e., “I won second place in a puzzle contest at summer camp” or “My daughter’s teacher grew up in the same town as Britney Spears and was a year ahead of her in school”) and then the boss read them out loud and we had to guess who wrote them. That was always fun.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        The article we read at my job included a story of the boss talking about cancer treatment (or similar) he was going through, and expressing that he was scared about it. But that was at a time and in a situation of the boss’s choosing! Not mandatory for everyone, right then!!!

      3. TootsNYC*

        demanding trust is a way to demonstrate that you aren’t trustworthy in any other way

        So true.

    8. BRR*

      I hope the trend in letter isn’t indicative of an overall trend. On the most basic level, I fail to see how this would build relationships. Knowing that my coworker likes to bake or do marathons is fine and builds some friendly chit chat. Knowing their deeply personal past events just makes me uncomfortable.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, that’s honestly my biggest problem with that kind of stuff. I suppose that when it gets touted as “team building!!1!”, what they mean by that is “afterwards, people will work together better, as a team”. Am I right there? Because if I’m right, I fail to see how one follows the other – knowing that my coworker’s parents hit them when they were a child doesn’t make me want to work with them more or more closely (or less, for that matter, so we might as well leave it).

        1. Jessen*

          That’s another thing I’ve thought of. I have absolutely dealt with people making stupid judgments about me based on past traumas. I don’t want to risk bringing that into the workplace. There absolutely are people who will judge whether other people’s traumas are valid enough or they responded correctly or whatever, and look down on you for it. Or just don’t know how to react and start walking on eggshells around you. I have had enough people decide I’m just immature rather than an abuse victim that I don’t want to risk it at work.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yeah. I don’t know my coworkers well enough to know how to best respond to their most personal traumas – and even if I did know, I don’t have the PRE-EXISTING emotional intimacy with them to be able to address these issues without it feeling intrusive and awkward.

            And no, it doesn’t work in reverse to create emotional initmacy. You might want to get to know someone before you let them stick their hand down your pants (and vice versa) but sticking your hand down a stranger’s pants is not a good way to get to know them.

    9. Bunny Girl*

      Yeah this is a trend I can’t get on board with. I’m one of those people who wants their personal and professional lives to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. When I leave at 5, I don’t work anymore and when I arrive at 8 the next morning, I leave my personal stuff at home. I don’t even like when our department makes us tell a “fun fact” about ourselves for our social once a year.

    10. FD*

      I actually left a job…hm, six or seven years ago now? because during a leadership training, it became clear they had some of this as part of their interview process. I pointed out that it’s wildly inappropriate to do that, as there are many people who have serious traumas that you have no business bringing up in that context. I was told I just didn’t understand their culture.

      I wanted a promotion but I could see how incredibly entitled and awful this was and wasn’t willing to deal with it.

    11. NotAnotherManager!*

      I could not agree with this more. I come to work to work, not for therapy. I have somehow managed pretty good relations with my colleagues without forced sharing of personal trauma with them.

      At my last job, the C-level guy who headed my department decided we were going to have a “team-building” lunch where everyone went around the table and shared something traumatic that had happened to them to “bond”. Now, bear in mind that this guy was an awful leader and actually deflected legitimate praise given to members of our team by others within the organization if he didn’t feel that we’d been 100% perfect. I worked on a tough project that required a lot of late nights while heavily pregnant, and, when the person whose project it was wrote one of the nicest thank-you emails I’ve ever gotten about how well the project went and how grateful they were for the help, dude’s response was literally, “I don’t really see what NAM! did that was so great.” I think my wonderful direct supervisor kept me from strangling that guy.

      So, he kicks off our group-trauma-sharing meeting with his deep-seeded insecurity rooted in his father leaving his family and starting another one that seemed more important than he was to his dad. About five stories in, I decide that I actually do NOT have to sit through this and get up and leave quietly. I emailed my direct supervisor that I had too much to do to attend the full meeting (which was true). I debated going to HR because, frankly, I don’t think this fell into the “other duties as assigned” category and that I couldn’t fall behind in the full plate of work I had so C-level guy who didn’t think I could do anything right could have free group therapy.

      Thankfully, he left shortly thereafter, the new guy had zero interest in discussing personal stuff at work. And, as a bit of karma, Mr. Insecure was fired from his next job for gross incompetence.

    12. Maggie*

      I am a high school English teacher. I teach this exact poem and do this exact exercise with it, and sometimes I do cry when **I** read what students share with me. But I have never, ever, ever even considered requiring anyone to share their writing, and that’s in a writing class! Sheesh to this workplace.

      1. Maggie*

        Oh, and I should mention I specifically choose this poem because it allows the writer to choose how much they want to share. It’s quite possible to share very little except for geographical markers. So I find the directions that it should make you cry particularly egregious. No one’s trauma is entertainment, and seeing it treated as such would make me RAGEY.

      2. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I do too! That being said, when I give categories to help my students write, I ask for things like one phrase description of your favourite place, favourite food, favourite song, words to live by etc. Their writing often does make me cry, but because of the way they capture who they are, not how well they share their trauma.

    13. Nubuck Rogers*

      Maybe I’m paranoid and never believe that workplaces have their employees’ interest at heart, but I really think that unburdened soul = exposed jugular. I can never trust a company or their employees to not use the info mined against them.

    14. anon for this anon*

      I went to a writing group held in a mental health community centre sort of place — and the tutor assigned us that ‘worst day of your life’ thing. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was suicidal at the time. Two people refused to write anything, and one person wrote about a death and ended up crying uncontrollably.

      Pro tip: never, ever, ever use any of the ‘worst day’, ‘bad day’, trauma themed prompts on anyone except yourself.

      (I think they do have their place, but people forget that they came out of writing therapy sessions led by trained therapists, and were never really meant to be used willy-nilly by amateurs. It isn’t safe, and I’d go further and say that in a school it counts as child abuse or child endangerment, and in any professional setting, it breaches ADA because you have no way of knowing who has mental health issues or past trauma *and you can’t ask*.)

      1. Elaine*

        There was a young lady named Daisy
        Who was given a task that was crazy
        She fell into a funk
        ‘Cause the assignment was bunk
        This is boundaries, folks; I’m not lazy.

      2. Queen of the File*

        I once had to write a deep poem
        For a work (and I’m no Leonard Cohen):
        “So the drive shaft impacted
        “Below my…” [redacted]
        I thought to myself, ‘that’ll show ’em’

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            (I think it’s “a work” in the same way that sometimes I eat “a food”.)

      3. ENFP in Texas*

        There once was a poet named Lyon
        Whose poetry left HR cryin’
        They asked us to write
        But I put up a fight
        And chose this as my hill to die on

      1. BadWolf*

        Yes, Lovelace and Hopper, that’s where I went next.

        I was also trying to work in some jokes about sonnets and iambic pentameter…

      2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        There was a manager who had the affront
        To demand poetry that must be blunt
        But to all who heard
        Thought this was absurd
        And the manager was a very silly person indeed!

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      I was thinking an acrostic that spells out something T H I S S T I N K S down the lefthand side.
      T is for the time I went to the office.
      H is for working on a Hellmouth
      I is for intelligence I’ve lost on this assignment
      S is for a swearword….

  4. CatCat*


    I wouldn’t even do something like this with my family and friends.

    I don’t get it.

    1. Doug Judy*

      Right? Like who came up with this and thought this was a good idea? At a long time job personal things would get shared with a very small group of coworkers. But they were 1. Shared unprompted and voluntarily. 2. Shared with only 1-2 trusted and close colleagues. 3. Not a freaking poem!!

      Holy hell.

  5. Crivens!*

    I cannot understand what possesses people even THINK of doing this. In my personal life I am often the Queen of Overshare/being an open book but that’s IN MY PERSONAL LIFE. I don’t want to know these things about my coworkers and I don’t want my coworkers to know these things about me.

    1. kittymommy*

      Same. I have almost a non-existent filter when it comes to sharing about my life. I’ll tell anyone pretty much anything, but I do it of my own volition, not through some dumba** poetry session at the office.

      1. kittymommy*

        The dumb*** is about the work assignment, not poetry. I like poetry (I’m just not good at it).

      2. TootsNYC*

        ditto in terms fo being an oversharer.

        I’ve even told friendly colleagues at work about my worst fears as a mom.

        But there are many things I don’t tell them. So…

    1. Amber Rose*

      This poem is deep
      It is very personal
      It’s snowing on Mt. Fuji

      I hate poetry, but I’m a huge fan of snarky haiku.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            It took so long for someone to reference “snowing on Mt. Fuji” that I started thinking I really am too immature for my age. Thank you for being the one to do it (finally).

      1. Stephanie*

        Oh man, the number of “This Is Just to Say” spinoffs about microwaved fish and year-old condiments…

        1. Decima Dewey*

          This is just to say

          I’m sorry (not sorry) I microwaved fish for lunch

          And burned popcorn this afternoon.

          But last week Fergus burned snapper soup

          In the microwave and stank up the breakroom

          And no one said anything about it.

          So you can all eff off.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        oooooh oh
        take me home.
        Country roads
        to the place
        I belong
        Rock City
        My city your mountains
        Stay with me stay
        I need you to love me
        I need you today
        I’m sorry. What were we talking about?

        1. Ellex*

          I see your brain works much like mine does. I can hear a simple “Hello!” and my brain supplies me with “Is it me you’re looking for?”

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            You just triggered a hilarious memory for me. When that song first came out on the radio, my father was trying to record it off the radio with some higher end equipment, and when Lionel sung “Is it me you’re looking for?” My sister yelled out “No, I’m looking for my dog!”. Yup, that made it onto the recording…..

            it was funny at the time….

    2. SigneL*

      This is probably OT (feel free to delete, if so) but when I get robocalls I usually reply to the question “how are you today?” with nonsense (“Jabberwocky!”)….so one day I go a “robocall” and responded to the question with “Bumbershoot!” But it wasn’t a robocall, and a very confused person said, “What???”

      Maybe next time I will say “refrigerator.”

        1. Even Steven*

          No, I think what we have invented here is the snarku. And YAY! Because if there was ever an occasion, this is IT.

  6. Lance*

    Why? Why do management teams keep on doing these things? Is it really so bad to focus on positives for relationship-building, rather than negatives?

    (or should I be positive myself and change that to ‘is it really so good to focus on negatives, rather than positives?’)

    1. WellRed*

      I’d love to know who’s idea this is? The founder/CEO? A new manager? Misguided HR person?

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Perfect. I don’t like talking about my personal traumas with people who love me. Just thinking about sharing my traumas at work – and crying ON PURPOSE – makes me ill.

    2. Puggles*

      Or keep the “trauma” work related, like the day your favorite boss or coworker left, they day the cafeteria changed the tortilla vendor, that time when you stapled your finger, stuff like that.

    3. JustaTech*

      Having once had my friend dissolve into tears over a ‘write a poem right this minute’ assignment in school, yeah, the poem itself could be traumatic.

      There’s this thing about poetry that it’s supposed to be “deeper” or “more authentic” or just more emotional than other forms of writing. Why would anyone think this is a good idea?

      1. Anonny*

        OK, so, picture Hermione Granger’s response to the prospect of failing an exam or assignment.

        That is me with writing poetry.

        I also studied creative writing at university, and the poetry modules did not help my mental health in the slightest.

      2. TootsNYC*

        There’s this thing about poetry that it’s supposed to be “deeper” or “more authentic” or just more emotional than other forms of writing.

        Oh my lord, yes!

        I used to monitor a weddings message board, and the number of people who wanted a poem for them to give to someone (like, their beloved son-in-law-to-be). But they couldn’t write poetry, would someone help them?

        I was always: “I want to make a case for prose. Just start with what you wrote right here, and see if there are some other things you want to say, or tweak a wording. This is great, it’s lovely. It doesn’t have to be a poem to be meaningful!”

  7. Akcipitrokulo*

    Oh no.

    It would be eye-roll-worthy if they were just wanting a poem in that style where you just mention things from where you’re from – like I’d throw in the metal climbing frame and buying kola kubes with pocket money – which would all be a bit not great and likely to be uncomfortable – but wanting it personal? No. So personal it makes you cry? Oh hell no.

    Something like “let’s do an exercise where you all take a minute to tell us something about you that you would like to share” with suggestion you might make it about where you grew up is better.

    But this is inappropriate – if they are coming from a good place, then pointing that out should stop it. If not and you don’t feel able to push back, write some crap, read it out and never mention it again.

    tl:dr – No, this is not OK.

    1. TootsNYC*

      yeah, i could do a poem about where I’m “from”– a rural-small-town girl focused on the big city, with an awareness of how different people’s lives are based on their individual geography; a word lover who discovered they PAY people for this; the oldest daughter who values having authority; a Christian who sees opportunities for service in small things like flipping open the handles of the top shopping basket and going first in the buffet line.

      But “make yourself cry”? No thanks.

    2. Artemesia*

      LIke ‘can you remember your most embarrassing experience’. (yes). ‘well tell us about it’. (NO, it was my most embarrassing experience.

      And of course for people with seriously traumatic experiences then this is a destructive thing to do ESPECIALLY as a cheap bonding exercise at work. ‘YOu lost your child? Well share with your colleagues how that made you feel.’ Seriously who are the monsters who come up with this stuff and cannot see how destructive it is to normal humans.

  8. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    This Is Just To Say

    I have written
    the poem
    that you have

    and which
    you were probably
    would team-build

    Forgive me
    this is personal
    so rude
    and so wrong

    1. AMT*

      Shall I write about my gran? Would that be a major breach?
      I shall wear business casual and bring a poem about the beach.

      I have heard HR emailing, each to each.
      I do not think that they will email me.

        1. dealing with dragons*


          “April is the cruellest month, writing
          poems out of my traumatic past, emailing
          an advice columnist, wondering
          who would think this is a good idea.”

          and so on

      1. GoryDetails*

        There’ve been some marvelous poems in this thread, and this one’s my favorite so far!

        1. AMT*

          Thank you! I thought of making it longer, but it fell apart at “I have seen them riding seaward…”

        1. AMT*

          Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through the crowded parking lot
          And watched the smoke that rises from the printers
          Of lonely coworkers in Ann Taylor Loft workwear, coughing out of windows

      2. No Mas Pantalones*

        Officially love you.

        I have seen them reading poetry most intimate
        Mandated by echelon upon high, imposing of intent,
        Whence boundaries meet their detriment.
        While we linger, bound in stuffy conference cells
        By authority expectation of vulnerability under scrutiny
        Till we, the masses, rise up, take arms, and declare mutiny.

  9. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    1. I can’t write poetry
    2. I don’t have a tragic backstory
    3. Work shouldn’t bring me to tears

    1. Ellex*

      4. I don’t want to talk about my trauma
      5. I don’t want to hear about your trauma
      6. This entire exercise is traumatic

  10. LCL*

    Or you could make your first line “There once was a man from Nantucket” and watch everybody fall over themselves trying to shut you up. I’m joking, but what you are asked to do is offensive to me, and I’m not easily offended.

      1. HailRobonia*

        the task: write a poem
        I replied strongly no, um,
        I’d much rather tell you to suck it.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      Awwww….I was hoping I was going to be the first to comment that…..

      Don’t do it, OP, but if you want to go out in a blaze of glory, it would be hilarious…

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      +1 I also suggest writing the filthiest Limerick you can think of.

  11. BusyBee*

    We recently had to do something super similar at work and it. was. awful. Our grand-boss asked us to create a “highs and lows” story and share the story with the team. They started by sharing their own journey, which included extremely personal and traumatic information. There was crying. The rest of the group followed suit, and it was a highly uncomfortable 3 (THREE!) hours of people getting in front of the room to talk about their trauma. I had prepared a fairly impersonal story based on work achievements and mainly stuck to that, but it felt so weird doing that after listening to everyone’s personal details. It was really deeply uncomfortable.

    1. KimberlyR*

      Ugh no. I don’t want to know someone’s tragic backstory while asking them for the TPS reports. Just give me the damn reports and let me live in ignorant bliss.

      1. BusyBee*

        RIGHT?! If we get friendly at work and in the natural flow of conversation someone tells me something personal, that’s totally normal and fine. But having it all just rush out like that in a forced setting is so so weird!

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Everyone who went before you probably wished they had done as you had instead. It’s kind of like going around the table at a meeting introducing yourselves, and one person starts with a long back story about their whole work history, so everyone else starts doing the same…and then FINALLY one person (yes, often me) just says “Hi, I’m The Cosmic Avenger, and I’ve been the Teapot Coordinator for 12 years.

      Then everyone else suddenly feels like they’ve been given license to stick to name, title, and length of service/experience.

      1. BusyBee*

        Totally agreed, but it also felt like it created a bit of a power imbalance. Like, person who shares the least wins? But the pressure to share was also really high, so it made it extra uncomfortable. I’m glad I didn’t say more, but when one person shares a lot and you share less, it feels like you’re breaking a social rule, ya know? Like the give and take of relationships. That to me was the worst part of it!

    3. Elizabeth*

      I once went to a training day that was some sort of leadership programme. It was really wacky and out there, but my manager said we ( her three reports and her) had to, so off I went. First session was everyone sitting in a circle and introducing themselves – but they were asked what brought them to this place – and people told their live stories, with drug addiction alcoholism, mental illness, family tragedies. The intro phase went on and on and one. When it got to me I said “Hi, I’m Elizabeth and I’m from [town nearby]. One of the facilitators asked “and what brought you here today?” I responded “a car”. Some of the attendees lost it. My colleagues gasped and then fell around laughing. My manager was livid – but couldn’t actually do anything. The rest of the day didn’t get much better.

    4. Anonybus*

      Just what in the hell is going on with this stuff? This much WTF of the same flavor suggests a common origin.

      And more importantly, how do we make it stop?

  12. Granny K*

    One of the best lessons I learned during my ‘career’ was to separate personal life from work life. After I really silo’d the two for most of my work relationships, I was happier and had more success at work. That this would be a requirement for a job would have me stressed out and probably pushing back. Or, I might just be sick that day.

    1. SezU*

      Yes! I work very hard at keeping my personal life separate from work. There was a time when it was very difficult to do that (military stationed overseas). But not any more. And this…. THIS… is a hard no from me!

    2. Mockingjay*

      I did take a sick day at Toxic Ex-job to avoid a second, horrendous team building exercise. (The first one was 6 hours of feelings and crying.) It was worth using 8 hours of my meager leave allowance.

  13. Squeeble*

    Good grief. I remember doing this exercise in a creative writing class, which is one of the few places it would actually be appropriate. Even then, there was no expectation that you should try to make yourself cry(!!).

  14. AngryAngryAlice*

    This is like the emotional equivalent of that all-day rafting team building activity in terms of intolerable-ness and straight up boundary-crossing.

  15. MuseumChick*

    My reaction to this is the Nope Octopus gif.

    You could also go with

    You could also go this

    “Against My Will” By OP

    I have written this poem against my will.
    It is required, and goes against many of my boundaries.
    The End. “

    1. Mockingjay*

      Where I’m From…

      I am from Planet Earth
      Which is dying
      Not from climate change
      But from stupidity, oversharing
      Seas rising from floods of tears

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Brilliant! OP, I think you should actually use ALL of these beautiful poems. Give one to each member of your group to read, and you’re done.

        *NB this is probably not actually a good idea. But it would certainly get the message across, if everyone in the group had a poem like this!

  16. Jubilance*

    So my team did this as part of an offsite exercise. And I was also leery. But it turned out to be…ok? No one cried, or got super personal. I actually did it sorta wrong and wrote about what “I am…” as a wife, mom, knitter, etc. Basically I just wrote things that my coworkers already knew about me. Everyone participated and honestly it wasn’t as terrible as it could have been.

    So if you can’t get them to just cancel it all together, dash off something that is full of stuff you’re comfy sharing with your team.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yes, this would probably be my strategy. I’m glad it didn’t go off the rails and everyone stuck to surface level things.

  17. Mat*

    I actively gasped at this. I write (both poetry and prose) and share it with safe people in my life. The idea of having to write a trauma inducing piece and share it at work makes me shrivel up and blow away.

    This would be a question of “I am not comfortable doing this.”

  18. LaDeeDa*

    To all the managers out there- stop it. Unless your background is organizational psychology, leadership development, psychology, training, etc– you don’t know what you are doing! You mean well, we get it, you don’t have a budget to hire a consultant to come in and do these for you, but holy heck, you are doing it wrong! There are reasons we do certain activities with certain people/teams, and there are reasons we don’t do crap like this. THIS doesn’t strengthen a team, this doesn’t help build relationships, what it does it make people uncomfortable and vulnerable in an emotional way– and it can really be upsetting to be a lot of people, and it best it makes people uncomfortable. Just stop it. Sheesh.

    OP- Alison, as usual, is right, if you can’t push back just keep it light. Hopefully, other people will take that approach too and you won’t be sitting ina circle with people revealing life’s traumas! *shudder*

    1. JJ Bittenbinder*

      Unless your background is organizational psychology, leadership development, psychology, training, etc– you don’t know what you are doing!

      That is my background, and I know enough to know that there in no one who should be mandating this at work. Not even licensed therapists (see: that letter from a while ago, where the LW’s job was making employees do group therapy twice a day).

      There aren’t enough clue-by-fours to use on the people who think this is a good idea. Dig deep until you make yourself cry? Even a therapist wouldn’t demand that someone do that in a private session! Forcing yourself to feel and reveal trauma isn’t to be taken lightly.

      This is horrifying.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        It is horrifying the way it was being described and instructed, but that isn’t the true purpose of that activity or the way it should be executed- you as a professionally totally recognize that, because you are a professional! I said there are reasons “we don’t do crap like this.” My main point was managers should stop doing all team building exercises because they don’t understand why they are done, how to do them, and how to connect the dots. That’s what we are here for! They can do “ice breakers” but leave team building, relationship strengthening to those of us who know what we are doing.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Yeah, I was definitely agreeing with you, and was also horrified enough that I wasn’t expressing myself well. Nor was I reading your post very well, either.

    2. Philosophia*

      Professional psychologists brought to the workplace as consultants—even by managers who genuinely mean well—are also willing and able to leave trauma in their wake.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        That hasn’t been my experience. I have been doing organizational development/leadership development for nearly 20 years, and the only time I have seen these type of poorly executed and facilitated team building activities have been by non-professionals, by the people who do not understand team dynamics nor the corporate world.

  19. Klingons and Cylons and Cybermen, Oh My!*

    What is the stated BUSINESS PURPOSE of this exercise? If none is stated, ask about it and force management to admit that THERE ISN’T ONE.

    1. pcake*

      They’ll possibly whip out the “we’re like family here” card, and those at the top like to feel coworkers are about more than business.

      I personally hate that, btw.

      1. NW Mossy*

        If you are my family
        will you read me stories
        and tuck me in?

        Gladly spend all
        money and time
        on me?

        Care for me when
        my mind and body fail?


        I guess you never meant it at all.

        1. AKchic*

          Oh, they’re family all right. Dysfunctional family, in that they may give you some additional emotional trauma!

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          Seriously. My parents gave me their old car. Twice. I’ll be waiting in the parking lot.

      2. Jessen*

        “My family is the reason I have so much trauma. Is that really what we’re going for here?”

          1. Jessen*

            Inspired by a real life conversation about boundary-crossing employers and the use of being like family to avoid real problem solving.

            “They sound like my family.”
            “You don’t talk to your family.”

    2. irene adler*

      I would imagine you’d get some kind of team-building explanation.
      Honestly, if the work is getting done to the bosses’ satisfaction, the employees aren’t experiencing health issues related to overwork, then why mess with things?

      I’m betting someone thinks this is a good way to justify their job.

      If the assignment is really supposed to make employees “cry a little”, is management prepared to bring in therapists to handle any fallout from this exercise? Cuz, you never know how such activities will affect someone.

  20. Amber Rose*

    OK, but would anyone else be tempted to poem-ify the “my life was worse” bit from the beginning of Deadpool? Where they’re trading stories about who was the most horribly abused to ridiculous levels?

    I mean, if we’re already gonna be inappropriate.

    1. Grace*

      As someone from Yorkshire, I’d poem-ify the Four Yorkshiremen sketch. (House? You were lucky to have a house! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of falling!) (I’m too tired to actually turn it into a poem right now.)

      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        A Yorkshireman once told his mate
        Of his childhood traumas so great
        Though he’d never brag
        He’d lived in a bag
        And only cold gravel he’d ate.

  21. C in the Hood*

    Our work wants us to write about trauma
    Like problems with our dad and our mama
    But I feel it’s so wrong
    So I’m changing the song
    To issues with teapots and llamas.

    (You’re welcome.)

  22. nnn*

    Making us write a poem for work
    Is the act of an out-of-touch jerk
    To make us share trauma
    Just brings stress and drama
    And rhyming just drives me beserk

  23. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’m an engineer, so mine would go something like:

    I am from Maxwell’s Equations
    and the Standard Model of Quantum Mechanics

    Everything else is left for you to work out
    as an exercise

    If you can’t do the calculus, we don’t have much to say
    to each other then.

    1. ImJustHereForAllThePoems*

      The nice thing about being an engineer is that you aren’t asked to do this kind of crap – and if you somehow were, you could safely ignore or just tall them you aren’t going to do it since all your engineering coworkers won’t do it either

      1. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

        Yeah, the only team building activity we approve is after hours beers, and even that is optional

  24. pcake*

    It seems to me that a “team building” exercise like this is more like making people share in Stockholm Syndrome.

  25. Bopper*

    The worst
    have been
    to write
    an emotional poem at

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue
    I am not going to write a poem
    And Neither should you.

  26. ThisIsMyName*

    We had a co-worker team building lunch a while ago where we had to share something personal, something we’ve never shared before. It was all women, my age-range, and we are all pretty close. Now I’m pretty open about things, except for a few. I participated with something a little more shallow than others and I was called out about it. I just said “I have a few things that I’d like to maybe share in time, but I’m currently dealing with it and I’m not comfortable sharing in a group right now.” Best case scenario, my answer was respected and we moved on. :)

    Hopefully you do follow Allison’s advice and they respect your answer as well.

    1. ThisIsMyName*

      Or you could just write….

      “My therapist
      has advised me
      not to share
      my personal trauma
      in a work-setting.”

    2. ThisIsMyName*

      Or you could just say….

      “I’ve been advised by my therapist to not share my personal trauma at work because it is appropriate and not anyone’s business.”

      1. ThisIsMyName*

        woops, i thought this didn’t post before! (at least I remembered somewhat what i wrote above!)

  27. Lay Dee Marmot Loud*

    I would be demanding to see the psychology/psychiatry licenses of those involved. Also, what the hell, is this group therapy? I hate, hate, hate forced intimacy/bonding! I would be very clear that this is a ‘no sale’ and loiking for a job poste haste.

  28. Rebecca*

    I can’t see any purpose to this. It’s not team building, it’s intrusive and nosy. When I’m at work, I do my job. Most of my coworkers do their jobs. Actual business things get done. They do not need to know anything about me personally in order to do their jobs, and vice versa, especially traumatic things that might make someone cry! That’s just way out of line. No, no, no, and more no.

      1. The Princess of Pure Reason*

        Vogon seems especially suited to this exercise. Fight a torturous team building activity with torturous terrible poetry. The BBC has an online Vogon poetry generator which could be handy.

        1. Pebbles*

          And apparently I should have refreshed the comments section before I wrote my post below! :D

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        “Ode to my resume”

        It is concise, like a leaf.
        It is complete, like a bird.
        It is online, like a quiz
        It lists languages, like Klingon.

  29. Laurel*

    One of the things I’m learning through reading this site is that most workplaces are a lot less “touchy-feely” than education tends to be, but even in an elementary school this would be crossing a line.

    I’ve done this exercise in my education classes and in professional development, but it was through a lens of culturally responsive teaching where it actually made sense to do this kind of thing. There were no directions about trauma or crying! If you read the original poem, it’s much more about daily childhood experiences (and their connection to culture and who you are) and not about your deepest, darkest secrets. Maybe the solution for OP is to do a very light version with a few childhood things? “I am from [insert favorite food,] I am from [thing you liked to play with on the playground].”

    1. Jaydee*

      I read the poem and I actually think it could be useful, but in a work-related and probably fluffier way. You are right that it is about connection to family and culture. So, make that about connection to past workplaces and education and the cultures of those places.

      I am from second-hand notepads,
      from hand-me-down staplers and folders that have been used twice before but are still good!
      I am from law school, from non-profits. I’m from the government, and I’m here to help (don’t laugh.)
      I am from the potluck –
      the vegan chili, hummus tray, and cheesy potatoes. The dessert table that is never big enough. You’d think we’d learn.
      I’m from do-more-with-less and don’t-rock-the-boat,
      from change the world but first clear the printer jam.

  30. SigneL*

    Can anyone explain what this would accomplish? My first reaction is that this is a power play by people in charge (consciously or not) – ordering people under you to reveal something very personal.

    1. Kheldarson*

      Poetry, by its nature, is pretty intimate. Even funnier ones tend to reveal information about yourself because of the brevity of the form. So asking folks to write poems, in and of itself, can be a good way to show personality. Especially if you leave it open to the writer’s choice to write a form of their choice, and maybe even make it a game of “guess who wrote this”. That would encourage more light-hearted sharing (even if it’s a bunch of different ways of saying “I hate poetry”!).

      The way this is set up is just… wrong.

    2. Washi*

      I think there’s some confusion about cause and effect. When you trust someone, you can share personal things with someone. So if you make people share personal things with each other, they will trust each other. Successful teambuilding achieved. /s

    3. LaDeeDa*

      This activity is used often is leadership training, but not the way it is being described and instructed here.

      Typically what happens-
      The participants read/listen to the poem
      As a group/team they will identify aspects of the poem that may have had significance on the author’s life
      Then they are asked to write their own, thinking about how their experiences shaped, influenced, etc their life.

      The reason is to make them more self-aware about how their life/experiences did shape them, make them more aware of the diversity in the room. This is typically done in leadership training where leaders may not know each other. This isn’t usually done with an existing team– it is a leader activity. And needs to be handled correctly or it turns into the sh!t show people here are describing.

  31. TexanInExile*

    My first day at OldJob, when everyone introduced themselves in our team meeting, one person said, “Hi I’m MsOverShare and my son, who was sixteen, died of cancer two years ago.”

    Which shocked me into replying that my dad had died of cancer, which most people at CurrentJob don’t even know after almost five years. I have learned.

  32. J*

    This reminds me of Michael Scott. “Tell us about someone who died, tell us how they died, and crying is encouraged” or something to that affect.
    Maybe they missed the memo that Michael was NOT a very good manager…

  33. AndersonDarling*

    Leaders think they want people to open up until someone actually does it. Then you can’t un-know about the rape, drug abuse, gunshot, poverty, near-death beatings, or crime that your employee talked about.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      to follow on this – I’d share this:

      I am from rape
      From the dirt/sperm of the man
      (white, glistening
      It tasted like pain)
      I am from the man’s bush
      The thorny hedge
      Whose long gone thorns I remember
      As if they are still in my side

  34. Lucette Kensack*


    I run leadership development programs, and we use this exercise in virtually every program. (Although we don’t use those “make yourself cry” instructions. Quite the opposite; we invite people to share something that is comfortable for them. Sometimes they write in the style of the original poem, other times they just chat without notes, or make a PowerPoint with pictures, or etc.)

    The programs I run are only effective if participants can get to a place of genuine connection with each other, which requires some degree of vulnerability on their part. This exercise is one of the many steps we take that helps people build toward connection and decide how vulnerable they want to be. In my executive-level cohort, this specific exercise is the highest-rated activity of the whole program.

    That being said: all the programs I work on are opt-in. People apply to participate. While they don’t know the exact curricula, they know what the programs are about and they have decided they want to participate. (And, of course, some folks change their minds and drop out. I know of one person who specifically named that he wasn’t comfortable with the “touchy-feeliness” of the activities.) Nobody has to be there, and — by design — nobody knows each other (at least, they don’t have relationships that we’re aware of; we don’t put coworkers or family members in the same cohort).

    I guess my reason to share this is to counter the pile-on of criticism that always happens here when team-building or other related topics comes up. I promise, it’s not all bad. Not everyone hates it. It can be valuable.

    1. boo bot*

      “[A]ll the programs I work on are opt-in. People apply to participate.”

      I think this is the factor that matters: the pile-on of criticism mainly has to do with the fact that these things are being forced on people.

    2. Observer*

      Well, you seem to be missing something very important things here.

      1. The fact that this is VOLUNTARY is just HUGE.

      2. This doesn’t even work for everyone who actually is in the group – even though people have an idea of what they are signing up for. Which is ok for some types of activities, but NOT for stuff that people are REQUIRED to participate in, which needs to be fairly universally useful and which – if badly enough done – can actually cause damage.

      3. There is an enormous, enormous difference between “share something personal that is comfortable for you to share” and “make yourself cry” So much so, that this alone should be a total dis-qualifier.

      Simply put – Your argument simply is NOT an appropriate counterweight to the common objection here to required team building activities that pull in all staff and and are highly personal or non-work related. It’s so different that it really is apples to oranges.

      1. Antilles*

        I think #3 is a huge part of the reason this comment thread is turning into a horrified pile-up: The kinds of stories that should be shared in this sort of thing are voluntary, simple, comfortable stories. At most, a lighthearted embarrassing story along the lines of “…and man, that glass door was so clean, I still maintain that it’s not my fault I walked into it, haha”. Not a personal story of trauma.

        1. TootsNYC*

          If I were the OP, I would just pretend that these were the instructions. I’d ignore the “make yourself cry” thing.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      “The programs I run are only effective if participants can get to a place of genuine connection with each other, which requires some degree of vulnerability on their part.”

      See, I don’t get this.

      I can work intimately and productively with somebody without whatever “place of genuine connection” means, based solely on our skills and abilities. If people demonstrate COMPETENCE to me, then I will trust them. I don’t need connection.

      1. WellRed*

        My coworkers and I know a good bit about each other generally. We’re a small friendly group and have worked together for years in some cases. Strong team, no vulnerability needed. Also, I trust Lucette that you are genuine that it’s truly opt in, but there’s no way to really gauge that is there? People will say and do and feel pressured to do things in order to get along, go along.

      2. Artemesia*

        I have done leadership development and team building and so agree with this. It is helpful to explore personal styles of work and communication and decision-making all of which are about WORK; having a sense that different people approach things differently and make different contribution an help teams function better. I don’t need to have a personal connection; I don’t need to know Fred is gay or Susan has struggled with depression or that John lost his wife and kids in that terrible car crash or that Frieda has an eating disorder. None of this is my business. People disclose personal information in the workplace as they chose — but others keep their private life private and none of this impacts the ability of a team to work well together. What can you do; how do you like to approach work tasks — that matters — your hopes, fears, dysfunctions and personal lifestyle don’t matter in the workplace.

    4. Onions*

      I agree that in the right context, participants can really enjoy writing these kinds of poems. I’ve seen it happen with opt-in groups (NOT composed of colleagues).

      However, I’ve seen a lot of these kinds of leadership development programs and sometimes I do think the facilitators do feel a sense of…I don’t know…achievement when people in the program share trauma and/or cry. I mean, I’ve literally asked “How did it go?” and gotten the response “People were crying”, meaning that it went well. Like it’s a feather in the facilitator’s cap for getting someone to open up about trauma because they think it proves that they created a safe space. And I’m really uncomfortable with that. I feel like the same dynamic is going on in these “teambuilding” activities; if the boss gets people to share traumatic memories, they get to congratulate themselves about the close and safe workplace dynamic they’ve created.

      It’s a dynamic anyone engaging in these activities needs to be wary of.

    5. Mockingjay*

      I am back at work today after a month off for FMLA, caring for family members. No one at work, except my very discreet supervisor, knows the exact circumstances. (It was bad.) I really don’t want to dredge up emotions, positive or negative. I just want to do my work.

      As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve done team building exercises in which emotion sharing was required. None of these exercises solved actual problems – project scope still wasn’t defined (who does what, using which process), team members lacking required skills or experience weren’t going to be replaced or trained, understaffing wasn’t going to be addressed, meaning we would never, ever meet schedule no matter how much we communed. And so on. These events were a thinly disguised bandage to conceal a horrible lack of management and accountability.

      Maybe team building works better at higher levels, when company executives are developing strategic direction? I’m not convinced it’s helpful for daily task execution of most employees.

    6. Patty Mayonnaise*

      I took a class in college that was about using art “in communities” (which could mean any number of things, including therapeutic groups, support groups, community groups, and workplaces). This poetry writing exercise would not have been out of place. BUT. The professor made it very clear that when working with a group, you always start with activities that involve the least self-disclosure, and then work up to higher levels as the group starts to trust one another and it becomes a “safe space” (so to speak). Some groups will never get to that point, if some people in the group aren’t into it. The issue with this letter is that the poetry assignment is going from 0-100, and while it MIGHT have been okay to do this at the end of a training of whatever, it’s not great as a one-off activity. I’ve been in a professional group that used these kinds of activities to share increasingly deeper levels of sharing, and I think it was really critical for our team’s success… but it was a specific workplace situation and executed well, unlike what’s happening in LW’s workplace.

  35. Troutwaxer*

    I have titled my entry, “My Mother Stood Up On A Horse, Wearing Lingerie!”

    I ran away from the circus where I was raised to join the business world because I was tired of all the drama.

    Drama Lama. I hate that band. And so should you.

  36. alldogsarepuppies*

    laughing that at grown-up office place gave their adult employees my middle school homework assignment. (I mean we weren’t told to get tragic is 7th grade, but we did write Where I’m From poems. IIRC I listed all the dogs my relatives had: I am from Fido and Banjo and George the Bassethound. I am from fetcher and barkers rescues and strays)

  37. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    For whence my pain is so to speak
    Under the moon I pray
    Clouds of mists my soul partake
    Keeping them at bay
    You look to me as if to dream
    On shores of swirling beach
    Ubiquitous, my soul’s the leech.

    Wrote that in forty seconds. Feel free to use.

  38. Lay Dee Marmot Loud*

    So, a certain demographic makes it all about periods, others write about painful anal fissures and something descriptive about having heinous gas…would that be painful enough to satisfy these emotionally vampiric psych fetishists?

    1. Lena Clare*

      I’m absolutely using the phrase emotionally vampiric psych fetishists from now on in.

  39. Emi.*

    There once was a boss, a real jerk,
    Who thought sharing trauma at work
    Would help his team bond,
    Go above and beyond,
    But it didn’t! It drove them berserk.

  40. boo bot*

    I am from no,
    from no and no.
    I am from the no under the back no.
    (No, no,
    it tasted like no.)
    I am from the no bush,
    the Dutch no
    whose long gone no I no
    as if they were my no.

  41. smoke tree*

    This line really pissed me off: “Make yourself cry a little. It should do that”

    It’s so incredibly entitled. Employees shouldn’t be expected to perform emotionally and share traumatic personal stories to satisfy the whims of management. They’re just being paid to do a job.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Onions. Onions make me cry.

      OP – you should write your poem (about a work-appropriate topic) while chopping onions.

      Or on an onion, if you want to ensure everyone else cries with you.

      1. Argye*

        There’s an old Muppet Show song about onions making Rowlf the Dog cry. I recommend using it.

        Muppets, The
        Onions make me cry
        Spoken: You may not know this, but I’m really a very sentimental dog.
        I cry easily. Onions, for instance, always make me cry.

        I’ll admit I split bananas,
        Take Easter eggs and make them dye.
        But I never harmed an onion
        So why should they make me cry?

        Once I saw a salad dressing.
        My face got radish, my oh my.
        But I never harmed an onion
        So why should they make me cry?

        Potatoes I’ve mashed, and berries I’ve crushed,
        I’ve made an artichoke, and that’s not all.
        I’ve also whipped cream, and beaten an egg.
        Yes, I’ve even made a melon ball.

        Of all the things above, I’m guilty.
        If punished I would know just why.
        But I never harmed an onion
        So why should they make me cry?
        Oh why should they make me cry?

  42. Naomi*

    Alison and the commentariat have pretty thoroughly covered the invasive and work-inappropriate nature of this exercise. What I’m thinking is: are the organizers imagining that everyone will come out with beautiful, lyrical verses that sing with emotion? Since the employees were presumably not hired for their ability (or inclination) to write poetry, it’s more likely there are going to be some REALLY BAD poems that everyone has to awkwardly sit through.

    1. Pebbles*

      If work really wants to hear some bad poetry, OP and company should all google “Vogon poem generator”!

    2. Airy*

      Yeah, a lot of people assume if poetry is sincere and emotional it’ll be good but it’s just not. Poetry is an elevated form of writing with various techniques that can be used well or poorly.

  43. Detective Amy Santiago*

    It would probably be wrong to co-opt a famous tragedy and say I wrote my poem about one of my past lives, right?

    1. Les Cargot*

      No, it wouldn’t be wrong at all, as long as you have some sort of proof that it was in fact one of your past lives. Y’know, birth certificates, dental x-rays, crown if royal, sword or armor if military, and so on….

      Some of these poems are making me cry. It’s been a while since I’ve laughed so hard for so long. Kudos poets!

    2. Anonny*

      Write the poem as if you are the reincarnation of Mary Toft. At the very least, it’ll be the most memorable poem of the day.

  44. Observer*

    You might want to point out that this could actually have the exact opposite effect than is intended. There are so many ways that this could actually inhibit bonding, that it’s not even funny. The likelihood of triggering someone with an exercise like this is way too high, for one thing. For another, people who are exposed in some way that they had little or no control over often have a hard time dealing with the people in front of whom they were exposed. This is NOT a “challenge to be overcome”, it’s something that smart bosses try to avoid.

  45. Eleanor*

    This sounds like something a cult would ask for; they want you to reveal ultra-personal information that they can then hold over your head later as leverage if needed. I’d start looking for another job if possible.

  46. CJ*

    You could always take a page out of The Office and share someone else’s story ;)

    Pam: Let’s see. I had an aunt that I was really close to. She was this amazing female boxer. Um, anyway, she was injured in a fight, and she was paralyzed. So, you can imagine how upset I was when I found out that she asked her manager to remove her breathing tube so she could die.
    Michael: Wow. If you wanna cry, that’s okay.
    Ryan: [catching ball] Thanks. Um, a few years ago, my family was on a safari in Africa and, um, my cousin, Mufasa was um, he was trampled to death by a pack of wildebeests and, um, we all… took it really hard. All of us kind of in the audience of what happened

    But seriously, this is so inappropriate. Not only would I not want to reveal such personal information, but listening to a roomful of people discuss their traumas would be a horribly draining and emotionally taxing day. You could add the emotional burden as another good reason to not participate. People will have trouble focusing at work for some time afterwards.

    1. Working with professionals*

      I was thinking of a mash up between “out out damned spot” and “Nevermore”

  47. Going Anon for the day*

    I’m in the process of losing a loved one. And it’s not the first time. It’s awful, and it’s dragging up memories of past awfulness, and I’m a mess in much of my personal life. The only way I’m getting through my days at the office is by consciously cutting off those emotional through lines during the day. If I had to sit through a meeting where my coworkers were reading poems about their personal traumas, I would straight up lose it.

    OP, please push back on this. It’s not just you and your coworkers’ past traumas. You don’t know who in your office is enduring trauma and loss RIGHT NOW. Today. Don’t let your management do this to them.

  48. Bookartist*

    Also, poetry is not just a bunch of words you scatter irregularly on the page. It is an actual skill that you need to learn and practice. This exercise really devalues the art.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This “exercise” definitely sounds like it was constructed by someone who doesn’t actually understand poetry, the power of the original piece, and who is using “poetry” as some sort of woo-woo shortcut to relationship building, which really is a process of getting to know people one conversation at a time.

    2. fposte*

      I’ll disagree with that, since art for therapeutic reason is pretty established (look at all the therapeutic journaling around), and it’s not like you have to earn the right to poetry.

      1. bookartist*

        I’m know the act of writing the poetry is useful as a therapy, but that does not mean that the work is objectively good as such.

        You don’t have to earn the right to write poetry or prose or any darn thing, but you do have to earn the label “good poet” by writing good poetry.

        1. fposte*

          Sure, but nobody’s demanding they write a good poem here, and plenty of poets have written bad poems too. I think this is a stupid exercise, but not because it devalues the art.

          1. bookartist*

            There is plenty of crappy poetry in the world – asking people to make more is a bad idea to me because I value poetry as an art form. You don’t have to agree.

            1. Elsajeni*

              “No one who is not already expert at this should be encouraged to try it in case their work is bad” is a heck of a way to value an art form. No new poets, I guess.

              1. Bookartist*

                That’s a rather ungenerous, and inaccurate, reading of my meaning. New and experienced poets write bad poetry; my problem is the point of this exercise is to get people to share their backgrounds using a form that takes skill to assemble effectively.

            2. Sylvan*

              May I ask, probably in an open thread so we don’t totally derail, how people are supposed to write good stuff without first writing bad stuff? I only learned to draw well by drawing shittily with enthusiasm.

              1. bookartist*

                Did you start to draw in context of using your work to share your personal background, including traumas, with people who are not visual artists and who could provide you with no useful feedback on how your artwork communicated your message? Or did you start drawing because you wanted to sharpen your skills?

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

                  Some people engage in art because they ENJOY it, not because they are trying to become the best or most skilled at it.

                  There are a lot of things that I do poorly that I do simply because I enjoy them, not because I am trying to sharpen my skills.

                  Asking people to do something outside of their comfort/skill zone (writing poetry/story/etc, drawing, singing) as a team building exercise might be annoying or uncomfortable for those who feel lacking in those areas (I know people who can barely draw stick figures), but even THAT is not the reason this exercise sucks. It’s awful because of how personal and boundary smashing it is! As others upthread have stated, it wouldn’t even be appropriate for a mental health professional to push that kind of forced vulnerability on to someone.

            3. Exceler*

              Should kindergarten teachers stop teaching their students to finger paint because it devalues painting as an art form?

              1. Kathryn Hedges*

                But is it necessary to enter your first attempts at art into a major exhibition? Is it necessary to recite your first poems in public to your coworkers who probably aren’t poets, fans of poetry, it teachers who can help you grow?

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

              What? That doesn’t even make any sense.

              Art forms as a whole don’t lose any sort of “value” because untrained or unskilled people are making some of it.
              That view in itself devalues people who enjoy engaging in some form of art simply because they enjoy it, without any aim or desire of becoming an expert, a professional, publishable/sellable, or even very good at it.

              And as fposte points out, even experts & professionals make bad product!

              I’m curious- had the exercise had been to write a short story or draw a picture, would you be here insisting that bad product devalues literature or fine art?

              This exercise is inappropriate for a work environment because it is far too personal, invasive, and emotionally fraught- NOT because amateur output somehow “devalues” the good work already in existence.

    3. Alton*

      I was thinking this, too. It’s not as big of an issue as people feeling pressured to share deeply personal stuff, but even if it was something more benign like “Write a poem about your favorite things” or “Write a poem about what teapot design means to you,” poetry is an art form that not everyone feels comfortable trying their hand at. Even good free verse poetry makes use of poetic technique. To me, this is along the same line as expecting people to get up and sing or something.

    4. Sara without an H*

      True, although the model used in OP’s example, “Where I’m From,” is actually pretty easy to pastiche. If OP finds she can’t push back on the assignment without burning all her political capital, she could probably find a good online thesaurus and cobble up an anodyne version she could claim was “deeply personal.”

  49. Steggy Saurus*

    I am the very model of a modern day contrarian
    I come to work each day with goals in whole utilitarian
    I cringe at management’s attempts at team-making pedestrian
    From poetry to feelings charts they’re all authoritarian.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      It’s hard to go wrong with a good G&S pastiche like this.

      Of course, a bad G&S pastiche is probably easier to write…

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      In short, in matters intimate, emotional, poetical,
      I am the very model of a person who’s heretical.

    3. London Calling*

      Three little maids from school are we
      And we think that this poem idea is pee.

      Sitting here singing yours now.

      1. Steggy Saurus*

        I’m thinking we could do a great “I’ve got a little list” based around all the management mistakes we’ve read about on this site.

    4. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      Frankly I think this kind of thing is just a bit vulgarian
      Less suited for a workplace and more for art classes riparian
      I understand good boundaries and emotional variance
      And therefore I’m staunchly opposed to this poetic dalliance
      This idea is as out there as a rock from the Hesperian
      It’s so bizarre it must have come from somebody Lunarian
      In short because I come to work with goals utilitarian
      I am the very model of a modern-day contrarian!

    5. Former Young Lady*

      Perhaps indeed the management does not intend to trigger us
      But if so they should make their vetting much more vigorous
      When contemplating “teambuilders” it wouldn’t hurt to analyze
      What business purpose dredging up our traumas really satisfies

      I understand my scars and amputations make you curious
      But to recount their provenance would only make me furious
      And no one will feel better knowing Tammy from Development
      Watched someone die at summer camp, just who and how’s not relevant

      Nobody likes a downer, you’ll discover next when Valerie
      Explains why she must audit every meal down to the calorie
      Or how the new guy ended up estranged from his whole family
      Because he told a single knock-knock joke a bit too hammily

      To make our vulnerability compulsory’s performative
      I humbly ask you to stop reading books that make it normative
      But meanwhile I’ll be screaming so loud they hear me in Italy
      Because your concept’s dangerous and implemented…crummily.

  50. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Got a better one, using both first and last letters:

    For whence my pain’s a roaming puma
    Under the moon I bless
    Clouds of mists my soul partakes
    Keeping them for which
    You look to me as I am – o!
    On shores of swirling shoal
    Ubiquitous, my mindless zone.

    1. MuseumChick*

      OMG, I’m trying not make make any noise in my cube but jeez this is funny and I kind of want the OP to use this.

  51. Princess prissypants*

    There once was a boss from Nantucket,
    Whose assignment made me say ‘fuck it.’
    So I wrote this cute poem
    to show I don’t owe him
    my trauma at work; he can suck it.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      Now THAT is a masterpiece…. not a good career move, but still a masterpiece!

      1. Princess prissypants*

        digging the internal assonance in lines 3 and 4. just the right amount of 90s hip hop.

  52. Free Meerkats*

    I read the headline, and my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes to the back of my head and mutter, “Oh, F no!”

    I would refuse. And if I got fired, the “Why were you fired from Overstepping Idiots, Inc?” question would be a slam dunk in the interviews.

    1. JustaTech*

      I have a very straight-laced friend who takes a lot of glee in knowing a 4-limerick set that starts “there once was a man from Nantucket” that isn’t even slightly dirty. The fun is watching everyone else’s face as they keep waiting for it…

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        if it’s not even slightly dirty, JustaTech, you have to post it here and share it with us…come on!

        1. Airy*

          I think I know it, or part of it.

          There was an old man from Nantucket
          Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
          His daughter, named Nan,
          Ran away with a man,
          And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

          He followed the pair to Pawtucket,
          The man and the girl with the bucket.
          He said to the man,
          “You are welcome to Nan,”
          But as for the bucket, Pawtucket.

  53. Ellex*

    I took a poetry class in college, both voluntarily and because it was a requirement. For the most part I enjoyed it, but one of the assignments was particularly idiotic. I don’t remember now quite what the assignment was, but the poem I wrote for it – deliberately designed to horrify and repulse any reader/listener – is still carefully preserved with my other creative works, because I actually thought – and still think – it’s a good poem.

    It was titled “Ode to a Dead Dog on the Street”.

    I’d be perfectly willing to pull that poem out for a workplace assignment like this.

  54. Angwyshaunce*

    “The boss is making me try
    Penning poems that will make me cry
    This trauma most recent
    Is kind of indecent
    And the sort of thing to decry”

  55. Asenath*

    I was asked to write a poem for the school yearbook – I think because I usually got good marks in English and was known to read a lot. – and they were having trouble getting volunteers. I’m not a poet, and have a bit of a contrary streak, so I submitted a limerick- and it wasn’t even a rude limerick. I was scolded by the teacher for not taking the request seriously, but nothing else, so I counted it a win.

    A work event aimed at one’s most personal trauma? No way. Refuse, or do something basic and non-revealing, depending on how badly you need the job.

    1. fposte*

      As poets have mournfully sung
      Death takes the innocent young
      The rolling in money
      The screamingly funny
      And those who are very well hung.
      –W. H. Auden, no lie–if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for you

  56. Kheldarson*

    Boss makes a dollar, I make a dime
    We all know the rhyme, as they say,
    That’s why I poop on company time

    Writing poetry is all dandy and fine
    But forcing me to write isn’t the way,
    While boss’s make dollars, and I make a dime.

    Keeping things formal is really sublime
    Coworkers aren’t friends; that’s why I may
    Poop on personal sharing on company time

    The idea that we’re family is corporate line
    But that sort of thought just makes me weigh
    Why boss makes a dollar while I make a dime.

    The only thing that makes work sublime-
    The true thing that makes me go yay-
    Is getting to poop on company time.

    But forgive me if I think it’s a crime;
    And to writing forced poems, I’ll say nay,
    Since boss makes a dollar, and I make a dime,
    So I’ll just go poop on company time.

    ((That was way too much work for a silly poem, lol))

    1. Troutwaxer*

      Love it. How about a poem about total lack of trust, something along the lines of “I opened up to my husband/wife about being molested, then that intimacy came up in Divorce Court and I lost custody of the kids, now I don’t trust anyone and when someone shares their secrets I find a way to use it against them.”

      Extra points if that poem goes first.

  57. Archie Goodwin*

    I was going to come up with a Pushkin sonnet, but my brain refuses to cooperate. Instead, I give you:

    “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,
    This, on the other hand, is not that clever.”

  58. Squid*

    I’d be tempted to write about my reaction to Endgame (now tied with Up for most tears). Bonus points if the exercise is this week since OP could refuse to read it due to spoilers.

  59. A Pinch of Salt*

    I’d be tempted to go the other way…cringe-worthy personal. You want personal? You got it. I present a detailed and graphic account of experience with puberty. Although this type of manager may love that…

    1. fposte*

      Oh, that has neatly encapsulated what’s happening.

      And you know, I’ve done any number of trust falls, but it never actually made me trust anybody.

    2. Observer*

      The problem is that they didn’t use forced sharing as a way to make people “feel safe”.

  60. Michael Valentine*

    I work for a small non-profit that has a strong anti-racist agenda, both for external and internal work, and the only way we can really get down to discussing these issues is by opening up. Otherwise, we’re speaking in hypotheticals and are too guarded to interrogate our own bias and the mistakes we’ve made. We’ve engaged in exercises that are very personal. But, anyone can opt out or they can re-interpret an exercise if they feel uncomfortable. I’m a trauma survivor, and I will admit that I curate what I share–for instance, I don’t cry at work, and no one needs to know everything that happened to me–but I’m fine with these activities, although I can’t imagine poetry would be the form we’d be encouraged to use.

    1. Observer*

      How is this even relevant here? You are describing a very limited and narrow case where this kind of opening up might make sense. It’s totally different to what the OP is describing. On top of which, even here you are being given a lot of options to guard one’s self, up to opting out.

      1. fposte*

        And I think “opting out” is complex–somebody upthread is in a similar situation that allows it, but she wonders if there will be a cost for her. I’m reminded of the ways in which opting out of majoritarian prayer wasn’t much of a solution.

        1. Observer*

          True. My point was that this is such a touchy issue that whoever is organizing it recognizes that even in such a case, where there is actually a possible argument to be made for the activity, people should be able to opt out, even if it doesn’t really wind up working out in practice.

  61. Cringing 24/7*

    So, what does it mean for a company to be “values-driven?” Is that just a coded way of saying, “we’re like family?”
    I am from separation
    From compartmentalizing work and personal life.
    I am from rejecting forced emotion.
    From placing boundaries and sometimes choosing
    the most random hills to die on.

  62. JSPA*

    At least they’re letting you go to the bathroom, and you don’t have to do the firewalk. (If they don’t let you go to the bathroom, or mention the firewalk? Leave. Just leave.) The cultic “self realization” programs come around in cycles, and we’re probably due for them again; take a stand. It’s not healthy, and never was.

  63. Red5*

    In my experience, there are only two types of people who would come up with such a ridiculous team building event: those who have never experienced true physical or psychological trauma, or those who get off on experiencing other people’s pain. Either of these is a solid Hell No; but considering they gave specific instruction that this should “make you cry”, I’m worried it’s the latter.

    Here’s hoping you can ride the nopetopus on out of this. If not, I submit this as an option:

    Roses are red.
    Violets are blue.
    This teambuilding sucks
    And so do you.

  64. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Things like this are NEVER ok. Team building activities are there to learn how to work together as a team by solving problems, not saring personal trauma. There are very few people in my work life that know personal things about me and there is no way I’m sharing it with my whole team. Writing poetry (or any other ridiculous personal sharing) is so not appropriate for a work activity. I would push back, have a chat with HR (and if they’ve approved this HOLY HELL) and just not do it. I didn’t like reading or writing poetry in school, and there’s no way I’d do it for work. Nope, nope nopety nope.

  65. goducks*

    I wonder if the employer is going to have a counselor available to deal with the very real possibility that someone’s discussion of their trauma is going to cause a mental health event for the sharer or for someone in the audience. This is so far beyond inappropriate for the workplace.

    1. fposte*

      That might actually be a good question to raise and a bit of cold water of reality to boot. “People will be talking about rape, abuse, and death; are we bringing in professional support for all of us?”

      1. goducks*

        Yes. I suspect the organizer is using the word trauma without meaning literal trauma. It’s a sick person indeed who thinks that a work event is a place to hash out all the truly terrible things that people might have endured. Therefore, I’m going to hope that the person is clueless and thinks that getting shot down for the prom is trauma.
        Meanwhile, someone is almost certainly on the verge of a MH issue being triggered by just the ask, let alone the sharing of their actual trauma. It’s so incredibly careless to do this sort of thing outside a clinical setting. Are they prepared for someone’s breakdown?

    2. Lena Clare*

      Yes! Of course this is hideous for the writer, but may be equally traumatic for the listener too.

  66. Madame Secretary*

    You should write a poem about how being forced to write emotional poems for work is traumatic for you.

  67. Hlyssande*

    Like so many others have said, this is a ridiculous request given the context. Most of us don’t share that kind of deep trauma with anyone but our closest friends and mental health professionals. There is no business asking people to share that sort of thing at work.

    If forced, I’d be tempted to write something in the format of a ‘lik the bred’ poem.

    1. Nea*

      Not the OP, but I love this, challenge accepted.

      My name is Name
      When time for work
      I come in
      I do not shirk
      But tramua poem
      Is Soliel du Cirque
      Who bids me ‘rite’
      Is a jerk

  68. SigneL*

    OP doesn’t say, but I assume the instructions to do this came from the boss. In that case, it’s really not “optional.”

    1. Free Meerkats*

      I disagree. The way I look at life, the only thing I have to do is die; everything else is optional. I just have to be able to accept the consequences of my decisions.

      I’d not do this. If I got fired for it, I can live with that.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        As long as you’re cool with getting fired for it, why not go out in a blaze of glory? “There once was an employee from Nantucket…….”

  69. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m glad you got some great advice, as usual.

    But I have to be honest, this is the first time I’ve read an AAM and just straight up started laughing. I’m so sorry that you’re in this position but it’s so over the top and hokey AF, I couldn’t not laugh myself right out of my chair.

  70. RussianInTexas*

    Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
    Thy micturations are to me, (with big yawning)
    As plurdled gabbleblotchits, in midsummer morning
    On a lurgid bee,
    That mordiously hath blurted out, Its earted jurtles, grumbling
    What? Vogon poetry is my favorite poetry!

  71. Heidi*

    I’m totally cracking up at the poems here. All I could come up with is this:

    A mandatory confessional
    Is really unprofessional

    This reminds me of the letter where the OP and her coworkers had to do group therapy every day. As I recall, the employees were able to successfully push back and the manager who was doing this got in trouble. I suppose this situation isn’t as legally problematic, but it raises similar privacy/boundary-crossing issues for me.

  72. Joan of Arcadia*

    I have a question. I am employed with a mental health organization, and sometimes these type of exercises are done in group settings as part of various team building exercises or even training. Usually, there’s a caveat that you only have to participate if you feel comfortable doing so (which is a good thing). I’m typically not comfortable getting overly personal or emotional at work or around coworkers. I am a private person, always have been, even as a teenager. However, I, too, sometimes worry about the optics of not sharing when almost everyone else is (or sharing something not particularly personal or private). Do you think the industry makes a difference (i.e., mental health vs. tech)?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I don’t think it should matter.

      The mental health industry should also understand that not everyone will be comfortable or even emotionally able to share deeply personal information! Your colleagues should know that despite being comfortable and willing to help others overcome their mental health issues, you, yourself are not just an open book for them to read at their leisure.

    2. JSPA*

      There’s just as much potential for abuse. The whole idea that sharing is intrinsically liberating is frankly problematic. It’s not like there’s an on/off switch labeled “shame” and “sharing.” There can be not only darn good practical reasons but darn good psychological reasons (like, tendency to perseverate, or the risk of luring oneself back into using by trying to mentally recapture the sensation) that can make talk sessions (in general, or regarding a particular subject) dangerous, unhelpful, traumatizing, or any combination of the above. Talking things out is powerful stuff; you don’t throw it around willy-nilly, anymore than you give everybody antibiotics.

  73. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I think I’d just cheerily say ‘Oh, I don’t write poetry, thanks!’ in the same sort of light and casual tone I’d use if someone offered to make me a coffee I didn’t want.

  74. Chocoholic*

    I’m all for being vulnerable and transparent and even sometimes at work. But not all of my co-workers need to know my story. Or deserve to know my story.

  75. AKchic*

    I’m of two thoughts here… because damn, I want to make the bosses *suffer* for this really ridiculous line of thought. And I have plenty of fodder.

    I could go into a lovely poem about how performative tears aren’t owed to management, and how it makes management look heartless, cruel, and psychopathic to want to witness the emotional breakdowns that they are forcing their employees to have in order to keep their jobs.
    Or, I could volunteer to be the first to read (warning everyone ahead of time about what’s coming), spectacularly launch into my history (in format), have a dramatic breakdown (I am an actor, after all), and then demand the psychologist that they responsibly should have had on hand for such an exercise, and when they don’t, then I refuse to stay the rest of the day, and see my own therapist (who has already been given the head’s up about these shenanigans) and we laugh about the morons. In a perfect world, it would get the managers to stop anyone else from reading their poems immediately and question whether or not they should be checking in with their corporate attorney.

    But, I have said time and again that I am a vicious sort of person.

    1. Pebbles*

      But, I have said time and again that I am a vicious sort of person.

      In this case however you would be using that superpower for good and I would applaud your efforts.

  76. OP*

    Thank you AAM, and thank you all for being so validating of my concerns! I’m still making it through your comments, but especially appreciative of those of you that put your finger on the privilege and power dynamics at play re: trauma. I’ll update y’all here with how everything goes. A coworker and I casually raised our discomfort with the activity, but our concerns were brushed off. So I’m currently planning to try to skirt the line between participating enough but not sharing anything I don’t want to.

    Loving your poems! <3

    1. LaDeeDa*

      OP if you search “where I’m from activity” you will find the author’s website which talks about the way in which the poem is supposed to be used– and maybe you can direct the organizers to that? It doesn’t talk about trauma- it talks about diversity, self-awareness. It is about gaining an understanding of how past experiences influence our current behavior.
      Good luck!

    2. Jenn*

      I don’t share my background much at work, so for these activities I use the infamous “lost at the mall” story used in (controversial and flawed) memory research. It’s kind of a nod to the stupidity of this kind of assignment. Basically the traumatic memory is getting lost at the mall one day as a young child.

      1. AKchic*

        Use Nick Rivers’ backstory from Top Secret!. He was lost in a clothing store when he was small and put to work in preteen maternity and then got his big musical break by writing the new jingle for a sale.

    3. BadWolf*

      Will there be time limit on poem? Maybe you need to write an Epic Poem (one of very long length) and save the rest of your coworkers by filling all the time with your one Very Long Poem. Like a filibuster of the activity with the activity…

  77. JSPA*

    OK, so…the model poem is great. Thanks for bringing it to us, and backhanded thanks to your boss.

    But it’s really the antithesis of opening up about one’s own traumas. It artfully gives the impression of being an unfiltered set of childhood smells, items, images, and (family-defining) family history. Everything in the author’s (poetic voice’s) own conscious history comes after the poem ends, implied in the last line of falling from the tree.

    I’d ignore the “tell me your trauma” directions, as there’s none of that actually in the poem. (Dad and grand-dad had trauma, but they didn’t write it.)

    I’d honor the poem–which deserves it–by writing something that includes “long-gone images and smells and sounds that mean something to me, as I look back towards childhood, and say something about me, that I’d be touched and honored to have other’s know about me.” The result should perhaps bring a tear of reminiscence, not of (WTAF?) personal pain. I would NOT honor your boss’s bizarre request to get an inside track to jerking you around mentally, by having you share your trauma.

    Nobody is going to be able to jerk you around because the combined sound of the ice cream truck and the taste of the blood from your loose baby tooth held you, riveted, thinking of how good yet how painful ice cream would be. Nor how mortified you are now, to realize that the truck was playing Camptown Races and Dixie.

  78. Sleepy*


    Yeah, if you don’t want to openly push back, your best bet is to purposefully reinterpret it in a impersonal way. My boss recently asked us to go around the room and share a formative childhood memory. I decided to go first and set a light tone by talking about how seeing my parents pursue healthy habits inpired me to pursue healthy habits as an adult. Another coworker who hates this kind of thing jumped in and said that seeing his father always dressed nicely inspired him to also dress nicely as an adult. So without rejecting the exercise outright, which would have offended my boss, we managed to take over the exercise and set a light tone, which everyone ended up following along with.

  79. RussianInTexas*

    Roses are red,
    Weather is bad,
    This coworker bonding is bad,
    The coffee in the break room is also bad.

  80. certified poet*

    I’d be tempted to bring in a poem I once wrote about my favorite songs and how they make me feel called “F*ck me with your music”

  81. East of Nowhere South of Lost*

    As someone whose been treated for PTSD, all i could say would be ‘hell no’. No one needs to know what caused my disease, and i’d be slightly afraid of a retelling causing a trigger in someone else. You never know what someone has been through.

  82. Jam Today*

    I have worked previously for a person who had the notion that he had ownership of my soul in addition to my work-efforts for 8 hours a day. His belief that he needed to “bond” with me — including things like me telling him about my personal life in detail — made me physically recoil from him, as my fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. I was not then but I am now fortunate enough in my life now that I would absolutely refuse to participate, and let the chips fall where they may. I was not so lucky then and had to endure a year of pure hell, but I would walk away if I encountered anything like this today.

  83. poetryluvr*

    George Ella Lyon is a treasure, and this poem is a great writing exercise, taught by people all over the world.

    Maybe not the most effective thing for work, though.

    I hope people stay kind to poetry and its purposes.

    1. VictorianCowgirl*

      Beautiful sentiment. This exercise is like roping and breaking a wild creature.

  84. Kelsi*

    I feel like I’m getting a reputation as the person who pushes back on these kinds of activities at my workplace, and I’m very okay with that.

    Non-profit can be a pretty touchy-feely place, and that’s fine to a degree, but awhile back we had a couple of milder boundary-crossing team things (on various teams I belong to) that culminated in an extremely boundary-crossing all staff meeting. At the time, it wasn’t made clear that we were allowed to opt out (though technically we were) and I hadn’t quite gotten brave enough to walk out, but I made it very clear to HR and my manager that it was unacceptable and wrote a thorough explanation of why it was not work-appropriate once I calmed down. It was handled well at the time and things have certainly improved, but we’ve also had some turnover in a few leadership positions, so it does occasionally still happen that there are large-group activities that ask us to share way more than I’m professionally comfortable with. The good news is that they’ve mostly been prefaced with an announcement that it’s okay to opt out, and I try to opt out in a way that’s a) respectful/not disruptive, but also b) visible enough that newer people know that yes, they really mean it’s okay to opt out and you won’t be the only one if you choose to.

    Even so, I’ve had a newish coworker express that the last time it happened she didn’t hear the announcement and didn’t realize it was an option, and felt very uncomfortable. (It was a “Cross the line” activity for those who are curious) I left the room entirely, as did a few others, but it was another all staff meeting so it wasn’t as obvious that a few people were missing if you didn’t see us leave.

    1. JustaTech*

      Yeah, I was thinking of that one too. Who on earth comes up with these things? Someone who has never had someone close to them die?
      Like, some days I’m totally fine talking about my aunt or my cousin who died of cancer, and other days I’ve cried in the shower. And I wasn’t particularly close to either of them!
      To ask a child to deal with these emotions for the duration of an entire assignment, on top of the rest of high school, that’s just beyond cruel.

      Someone up-thread mentioned how these assignments say a whole lot about the assigner’s privilege when it comes to emotional pain.

    2. elemenohpi*

      OH. MY. GATOS.

      My father died from cancer when I was nine years old. If I’d be given assignment like this, my mother would have RAISED HELL. She literally would have pulled me out of school over this.

      How incredibly traumatizing and insensitive. My father’s death was the most traumatic thing that ever happened to my family. It took decades for my mother to recover. Being asked to turn that trauma into a poster? What in the actual eff.

  85. craig*

    Where I’m from? That’s easy:

    In West Philadelphia born and raised
    On the playground is where I spent most of my days…

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      If queried further I’d break down in tears about how my snobby cousins didn’t want to accept me as part of the family… how Mom only visited a couple of times in 6 years… how every time I tried to have my best friend over they’d throw him out… :D

  86. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I worked at a nonprofit where this sort of behavior was encouraged in trainings, both in sharing personal stories and sharing “mission moment” type things, which involved you sharing someone else’s personal story(!) and how you helped them through the organization, ideally while crying. The more crying, the better.

    Typically, the best way to get through these exercises is to pick something that follows the letter of the exercise, but is boring. Something that’s a hard no (refusal to participate due to personal history) will be interpreted as this exercise is needed so our team can open up and be vulnerable and feel safe and supported at work. Something that’s a hard yes, (The worst day of my life was the day I was Victim of Awful Thing), will reinforce to the facilitator that this is an excellent exercise because it got people to open up and be vulnerable at work. But something that’s boring, (The worst day of my life was when my science project sunflowers died the morning of the science fair) prompts zero reaction at all, and thus the facilitator will deem it a dud exercise.

  87. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    Whose words these are I do not know
    They do not feel like mine, although
    My friends will lend a loving ear
    Not force me to put on a show.

  88. Amelia Pond*

    I… wow. I’m rarely speechless but all I could I do was just stare at my phone for a few minutes. If this was something directed specifically at me (especially at certain points in my life, before treatment had gotten me to where I am now) it could have well landed me in the hospital. Just asking me to remember the trauma would be bad enough, but then to tell me I had to share with everyone? They could well have triggered an attack from someone with PTSD or CPSD and are lucky they didn’t.

        1. Amelia Pond*

          Oh darn, I didn’t notice I spelled it wrong! Thank you for the correction.

  89. rageismycaffeine*

    OH MY GOD I HAD TO DO THIS EXACT EXERCISE. Same poem. EVERYTHING. I had completely shut it out until now.

    Not coincidentally, this was the job where my boss told me I had a “negative attitude” because I hated doing things like this and wouldn’t BS my way through them with a smile.

    Now the woman who insisted on starting her job interview with a hug? He LOVED her.

    Thanks for bringing back this particular traumatic experience.

  90. MissDisplaced*

    What the heck is WITH all of this touchy-feely stuff at workplaces lately?
    For most places, it’s just way too much TMI.

  91. Parenthetically*

    Y’all, since one in three women
    And one in six men
    Will have sexual violence
    Perpetrated on them,

    Perhaps let’s rethink
    This icky forced sharing
    And substitute something
    That’s less overbearing.

    I don’t want to talk
    About traumas with colleagues,
    Or bare my soul tearfully,
    Share all my follies.

    We’re not therapists, priests,
    Imams, rabbis, or pastors.
    Let folks keep their own secrets;
    End this workplace disaster.

  92. Freddled Gruntbuggly*

    If I had to write a poem,
    I would leave it safe at hoem.
    Sharing all that pain and drama
    Would cause me such a trauma
    That I’d totally hafta drain a jereboem!

  93. Orbit*

    This sounds like an assignment my daughter was given at school (she’s 14), she came home completely freaked out about having to share about her greatest fears and hopes.

    She’s naturally a private person and compounded with having been bullied in elementary school, she had no desire to open up vulnerabilities to her classmates.

    I told her to treat it as a creative writing assignment and make something up. Which I realize is easier to do on a middle school assignment than at work, but wow there is no way I’d participate in an exercise like this.

  94. Carlie*

    I have a problem from the other side as well – it’s one thing to try to make me come up with something traumatic to share. But making me listen to everyone else’s traumatic experiences? NO THANK YOU. I have a tendency to be really affected by pain in others. Even if falling off my bike once was the worst thing I’d ever been through, sitting there listening to the others would put me through the wringer and leave me too upset to function for the rest of the day. This just has bad written all over it.

    1. L. S. Cooper*

      Oof, this too! I don’t really feel like I have anything especially interesting or traumatic that’s worthy of expressing in poetry (and, frankly, I don’t really care to write poetry about it anyway), but I’m very affected by what’s happened to others.

    2. Pebbles*

      Do you remember that “America’s Funniest Home Videos” where a large category of them were people injuring themselves in “funny” ways? I could never watch that show (even though it was a family favorite) because I cringed so hard for these people I had never met. Maybe because I’m such a clutz myself, but the secondhand embarrassment was too much for me to take. If I had to listen to actual trauma from people I knew? No way.

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        Ugggh that show is the worst! Our mirror neurons are not kidding around. Physically painful to watch.

    3. JustaTech*

      Exactly! I’ve had some coworkers share some very personal and traumatic experiences that I did not want to know. It was painful to hear and I kind of shut down (which they were clearly upset about too) and now I have to know these things.

      With one coworker who is quite open about all their stuff (and its a lot) it was more ok because everyone got to hear it (more than once). But when it was someone just sharing with me I was like “why are you telling me this? It isn’t helping you, it isn’t helping me, and while it doesn’t change who I think you are, now there’s this thing hanging around.”

  95. L. S. Cooper*

    I hate this exercise even in creative writing and poetry classes. It devalues the beauty of the original poem by breaking it into a formula you’re meant to plug random things into, and, frankly, generally doesn’t result in very good poetry, because it does absolutely nothing to explain why the original works so well. I’ve written at least three or four “I am from” poems in my years of schoolwork. Almost none of them were any good– save the one I wrote in college, after enough education to actually understand a little bit of how a good poem works.
    In a workplace, this is an abomination. Actually, making people listen to others’ poetry is an abomination in most situations.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, a hearty seconding to that last sentence. I fully believe that there shouldn’t be barriers to art–if you want to paint or sculpt or write plays or poetry about your trauma, absolutely you should do it. But other people shouldn’t have to sit through it. This is going to be like some nightmare version of an elementary school play.

      1. L. S. Cooper*

        I actually quite like elementary school plays, because I can just enjoy kids giving it their all. But adults? Gah. Even in actual creative writing classes, I’ve had to read some godawful stuff.
        There’s been a reference to the lovely poetry of the Vogons above, but that’s really all I can think of in this situation.

        1. fposte*

          That’s the nightmare vision–this is adults, and you have to talk to them afterwards, and you presumably have to say something more weighty than “That was very good, darling!”

    2. L. S. Cooper*

      For the record, I got incredibly snarky with my most recent version of the “I Am” poem for class. I literally titled it “If I’ve Learned Anything in This Class it’s The Difference Between Setting, Scene, and Story”. Thankfully the teacher had a good sense of humor; I somehow doubt the people enacting these terrible so-called teambuilding exercises would appreciate it.

    3. jcarnall*

      I actually really enjoy the verbal fun of writing a sonnet or any other strict-form poem exactly according to the guideliness specified by the workshop. I have no illusions that this results in good poetry, but in terms of a game with words, it’s usually more fun than crosswords.

      However, the thought of being instructed to do it at work about anything really personal makes me want to mock the whole thing by doing something like found-poetry with words/phrases from the company manual.

  96. Nea*

    This Is Just To Say

    Game of Thrones
    has ended
    So many deaths
    and tears

    and which
    you were probably
    very fond

    I won’t
    replace those tears
    at work
    it’s too inappropriate

    1. Women should be maesters too*

      You tell ’em. We didn’t survive the Battle of Winterfell just to have put up with this BS.

  97. A Good Egg*

    I think that I shall only be
    Able to write bad poetry

    A poem that makes people snort
    And, mercifully, is short

  98. Drew*

    Why a poem, why, boss, why?
    Why do you want us to cry?
    Why must we our souls to bare?
    Why at work, why would you dare?
    I do not want to write a line,
    You want poems, well, here is mine.

  99. Grief never goes away. You just make room for it.*

    Would you like to use a real one? From a real English professor?


    A Virginia Tech English professor expressing his (and our) guilt for not killing the shooter (and then himself) before 32 innocent people died.

    1. TootsNYC*

      (this *is* the poem in question, exactly; I have the impression I’m not the only one who didn’t realize how formatted it is)

  100. Rainbow Roses*

    I have one question.
    I’m not going to lie.
    This assignment is making me cry.

  101. Anonymous Poster*

    Peep season is gone
    Sorrow is my marshmallow.
    Gloom accompanies.

    Truly this haiku gives words to my grief that now I have to coat marshmallows myself with sugar before eating them, instead of just buying them that way.

    (sorry your boss sucks.)

  102. peachie*

    Go full Mueller report?

    I am from [********************], where
    [***] and people [***********************].
    One time [**************************].
    [********] man’s best friend, [****************].
    [******] had a [*******************] job. [********]
    [****************] bees [********************]
    and on Tuesdays,

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “But never at dusk.”

  103. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Of course you could also BS and give them something about a hobby you SAY affects you deeply.

    Stolen strawberries.
    Decapitated tulips.
    Watch out for squirrels.

  104. RUKiddingMe*

    Nine years on I can just, *just* keep myself composed enough to talk about making the decision to turn off my son’s life support and holding him as he died.

    I would write a poem about that and make full eye contact with whichever yoyo(s) thought this was a good idea for the entire time I was talking.

  105. 2horseygirls*

    Abso-freaking-lutely not.

    Although I would come up with a way to distill my 14 equine science textbooks into poem form, and see how long the boss lasted with the intricacies of the 100 foot long equine digestive tract.

  106. Q*

    This would piss me off so much I would go to HR and raise a stink. No, work is not an appropriate place to spew all your most traumatic events in a public way, and in front will of your colleagues. This would seriously get my ire up and I would refuse to participate.

    1. Mockingbird 2*

      Yeah I think this would be my hill to die on. I’m a very private person who has a history with my own trauma being exploited by others so that in and of itself is probably more of a “trigger” for me than the actual events! I’d go to HR, if nothing worked then I’d write something bland and then find a way to leave or just call in sick that day to begin with.

  107. Batgirl*

    Three options I can think of:
    1) Write something impersonal from a long time ago. Like ‘In Miss Tilchers class’ by Carol Ann Duffy or ‘First Day at School. Or ‘I come from cash registers and customers who yell’.
    Tears? ‘It was nostalgic while writing it.’
    2) Mug off a fictional character. “I really identify with her”
    3) Use codewords like ‘vampire’ = boss, and ‘heart’ = ‘privacy’ = and blood=poem and write about this task.
    “As the leech will draw on blood
    And as vultures feast on flesh
    So his shadow spills and floods
    And would release the tourniquet
    My heart’s now squeezed of every drop
    By the only vampire I can’t stop.

  108. so anon for this*

    Oh man, I’d lose my s#it over this.

    In the past year my elderly dad needed heart surgery that put him into the ICU, we had a tornado rip through our property, I needed serious surgery, my beloved dog is very sick and possibly dying, my mom’s dementia is going to a new level, my favorite aunt is very illa, spent two weeks in ICU, nd showing signs of dementia while in a rehab facility, I have a tentative diagnosis of an endocrine disorder and am looking at surgery on my neck (and I’m still in PT from the last surgery)….

    I think, faced with this assignment, I’d deliver most of the above ininformation in a piercing scream, meant to shatter eardrums. Because, really, you don’t know what your coworkers may be going through, that they choose to keep to themselves (and select family and friends).

  109. Beedzer*

    There’s no crying in baseball.
    That’s what Tom Hanks said.
    I’d like to apply this
    To my real job instead.

  110. Seeking Second Childhood*

    You know what? Anyone who does team building like this needs to share it in the interview so we can self-select out.
    Because just from reading this at lunchtime, I’m wallowing in remembered grief.
    What a horrible thing to do to your employees.

  111. London Calling*

    Anyone seen Blackadder Goes Forth and remember Baldrick’s poem The German Guns?

    Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom,
    Boom, Boom, Boom,
    Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom,
    Boom, Boom, Boom

    Yours could be entitled How I Feel About This Exercise

    Nope Nope Nope Nope
    Nope Nope Nope
    Nope Nope Nope Nope
    Nope Nope Nope

    1. AKchic*

      I was actually considering

      “Ode to My Toddler” (because my kids were emotional little turds, as all toddlers can be, and at times, it made *me* emotional)

      No no no no no
      No no no no no no no
      no no no, Hell no.

      I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

  112. Maude*

    We had to do an oversharing exercise of our feelings at a (required) conference I attended. I was able to say a few meaningless sentences and was not pressed to add anything else thankfully. There were a couple of other people in the group that shared A LOT. I was very uncomfortable listening to their traumas and felt they were being exploited by the group leader. It ended up feeling like a self help group that I was not interested in participating in. In one case it made me look at one person in a different way professionally than if I had not had all that personal information. This is a bad idea for so many reasons.

  113. iglwif*

    This would cause me to turn into the living embodiment of the Nopetopus gif. WTAF.

    Which is not to say I don’t write through my traumas and difficult Feelings! I do that all the time. (Not in verse, though.) What I do NOT do is do it out loud in front of my co-workers. ALL. THE. NOPE.

  114. Lumen*

    I’m gonna go with beat era spoken word here:

    whoooaaaa, man!)
    it’s not coooooooooooooool!
    to re-trau-ma-tize
    your em-ploy-ees
    for your
    or your


  115. MaureenC*

    I worry that this poetry
    Will expose the company
    to complaints to EEOC
    and Internet infamy

    Perhaps a judge would say
    It violates the ADA
    Or hurts more those who are gay
    Or is contras bonos mores

    You probably don’t know
    all your employees’ woe
    So wait before you go
    put your career on an ice floe

    I know you want to show you care
    So please don’t make us overshare

  116. Princess prissypants*

    do something silly based on a show or whatever fandom. you’ll come off “deep” to the boss, and you might pick up a rebel friend along the way.

    i am command
    respect i demand
    red wine as a flirt
    a white prada skirt
    hidden cam’s a t-rex
    president’s my ex
    hacked burner phones
    i want my bones

  117. CanCan*

    I am in a place of fear:
    If my poem sucks, will I be fired?
    Oh dang! My words are bland and jagged.
    I cry with apprehension.

  118. anonykins*

    I did this as part of a *voluntary* year-long group dedicated to improving our understanding of diversity and inclusion. I also had, and choose to exercise, the option *not* to share my poem.

  119. MRK*

    From the opposite end of things: I just… haven’t had anything truly traumatic happen in my life? Like plenty of sad or disappointing in the moment things, sure. But not much I’d call traumatic or life changing or worth crying over a poem about. And hey, maybe that’s me just being “callous” or “emotionally unavailable” but I don’t want to pretend I’ve been through something when other people HAVE been (and they shouldn’t be forced to share that either.)
    So put me down for a hard NOPE on performative misery.

  120. SigneL*

    I’m a big fan of KISS (Keep it simple, stupid/Keep it short and simple, your choice). Here is my masterpiece:

    Where I’m From:


  121. Ghost Town*

    Just wanted to stick my hand up to say “I grew up going to church with George Ella Lyon!”

    And yeah – wildly inappropriate for a work setting.

  122. Spencer Hastings*

    Continuing in the vein of “what would I do if this happened to me?”: I’m an amateur classical musician, so I’m having this fantasy of taking my instrument in and, when it’s time to share, just going to town and improvising something that’s by turns expressive and lyrical, and wildly atonal. Then, if asked to explain: “well, er, you see…I mean, that is…ah, I apologize, I can’t explain it in English — these ideas are only expressible in Oboe.”

  123. Flurpity Flurp*

    YIKES. I can’t believe they specifically stated they want you to cry. Seems like they took an idea that could work – share something about yourself/your background, which could easily just be your work experience or something that influenced your work experience – and turned it into a nightmare scenario. When it comes to ill-advised team-building strategies it seems like there’s a common theme of people interpreting “personal sharing” to mean “sharing something that makes you uncomfortable” rather than something more general. How could orchestrating shared discomfort possibly improve work relationships? I definitely think it’s ok to make something up or spin the truth into something that technically qualifies without sharing too much.

    1. Flurpity Flurp*

      They did say be as personal as possible, so you could say your true self is best expressed in theatrical rants and freeform monologue it:

      Lo! What absurd follies are visited upon us,
      employees charged with passion’s pursuit,
      as if professional bounds observed and cherished
      are not true passion embodied in this, the modern workplace!
      Beware the self-proclaimed wisdom of the pop psychologist
      who purveys dubious wares to unsuspecting c-suites,
      primed to favor tears of bonding, or the rending of a poet’s tender soul,
      over shared competence and kindness, cultivated in earnest!
      The last doth promise glory and increased shareholder value
      should some brave warrior – wild unicorn conceived in rarest union
      of power and sense – blaze forth brandishing reason unburdened
      by feel-good ego fodder in a willing surrender of capital, crying out:
      “Accursed foes! Who dares treat my employees as notes to be played in some hideous orchestra?
      Who burdens further in the name of unburdening?
      Woeful misconception of team bonding calls managerial fitness into question!
      Indeed this is the hill upon which I shall perish!”

  124. Argye*

    And then there’s JBS Haldane’s “Cancer’s a Funny Thing,” which begins…

    I wish I had the voice of Homer
    To sing of rectal carcinoma,
    Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,
    Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.

    It goes on for several pages.

  125. Jennifer Juniper*

    LW, do you work for NXIVM, the Unification Church, or Scientology?

    Seriously, though, your boss may be a would-be cult leader.

    1. Anonybus*

      I’m genuinely wondering if the workplace leadership development zeitgeist has drifted from “startup envy” to “cult envy”.

  126. WFH Lurker*

    I once wrote a haiku voluntarily that was work-related, but I didn’t cry.

    Free soda at work.
    Sometimes it contains black ants.
    I drink only Sprite.

  127. Humble Schoolmarm*

    I double dog dare someone at OP’s company to start reading The Divine Comedy: Inferno. When someone challenges them, look the questioner dead in the eye and deadpan “Are you saying my guided tour through Hell wasn’t traumatic?”

    Or try the slightly modified version

    Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,
    I woke to find myself in a dark office
    Where the right road was wholly lost and gone

    Ay me! how hard to speak of it- that poem
    To share my grief.! The mere breath
    Of memory stirs the old fear in the blood;

    It is so bitter, it goes nigh to death,
    And there I gained no good, but to convey
    The tale, I’ll write to not be fired.

    Abandon all hope all ye that enter here!

  128. Nick*

    Me being the creative asshole that I am, I would just make shit up. Horrible, horrible stories.

    Then when I inevitably get pulled into my bosses office/HR I would ask what did they expect/can they prove that I am lying?

  129. ShwaMan*

    Email to boss:

    “Hey, I’m working on my personal trauma poem. A little help: What rhymes with ‘diarrhea’?”

  130. Public Facing Librarian*

    I know George Ella Lyon and her work. I use this poem as a prompt in writing workshops. The instructions are appalling in any setting. I am pretty sure she would be horrified with this work assignment.

    1. Former Employee*

      I had never heard of her before, so I was not familiar with the poem. I just read it and think it is truly beautiful. I cannot imagine that just anyone could begin to write something like this and, frankly, it would be a bit traumatic to be expected to do so by someone who has power over my work situation.

      I wonder if there is some way she could object to her work being used in this fashion.

  131. jcarnall*

    There is a genre called “found poetry”, made from other people’s words.

    Since instructions state “Make yourself cry”
    As possible personal trauma old
    Accidents. Experiences. Trauma is gold.
    Make yourself cry. A little. Cry. Cry. Cry.

    Specific and personal. A little cry.
    George Ella Lyon. The worst thing is told
    it should do that. The key is making sold.
    The worst thing. The worst thing. The worst thing. Die.

    Where I’m from. George Ella Lyon. Losses.
    George, where I’m from, where I’m from, where I’m from.
    Key is making this specific. Across his
    poem, where I’m from, George, is mostly numb.
    The worst things that you have been told, bosses,
    accidents or traumatic – I’m done. Done.

  132. TK*

    Where I’m from is a place
    where touchy-feely poems aren’t mandate
    or any part of our professional development

    I’d like to go back there

  133. fogharty*

    I almost, “almost” wish they would require this exercise at my job, so I can display my amazing “cry on command” skills I honed during my theatre days.

    I can go from sniffles to full out ugly cry with runny eyes, nose, and other gross effects in less than 60 seconds. (sorry, humblebrag)

  134. Worcestor rhymes with Rooster*

    I can’t provide a poem (truly impressed with those above) but I do have a strategy I use for such situations: Willful, wide-eyed ignorance. I just ‘reinterpret’ the task in my own way and then act confused and apologetic that I didn’t ‘understand’ the instructions. For this task I would find a poem that ‘speaks to me’ (something generic) and then present it saying that it ‘got me through’ a difficult period after my grandparent died. [I chose grandparent because after a certain age most people have lost their grandparents and while sad it isn’t necessarily traumatic or triggering for people].

    For the poem I think I would choose Burn’s ‘To a louse’: O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us! Though it is completely wasted with my Australian accent.

  135. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    You wanted a poem
    To put us to the test.
    Arkell vs Pressdram
    Is my response to your request.

  136. Office Gumby*

    Because April Is National Poetry Month, I chose to write a poem.

    Screw Your Stupid Poem
    by Office Gumby

    Where I’m from? I come from home.
    A poem about home. Of course I’m going to cry.
    Everyone cries about home, either by the going from or the coming to.
    And not for the same reasons.

    “The worst thing I have been told”?
    That I must write a poem about it.
    I’ve already lived through the worst things.
    I don’t see why I should live through them again.

  137. Slightly Unhinged Sonneteer*

    Demands quite reason’bly are made of time
    And concentration (productivity
    In short), and that (I cannot disagree)
    Leads to “Another day, another dime.”

    However: asking — nay, mandating — I
    Should open up my heart, reveal my pain,
    Shall never see success. How much I deign
    To share is mine to say. I shall not cry

    At your direction, like some animal
    Performing at its master’s slightest whim.
    Such callousness renders your chances slim
    Of keeping charge of e’en a single thrall.

    (Forgive if this upsets your applecart;
    Please know I am but speaking from my heart.)

  138. Former Employee*

    What in blazes is a “values driven company”?

    Based on this, I wonder what their values are and I seriously doubt that I would share them.

    However, I had never heard of George Lyon or the poem “Where I’m From”. I just read it and happen to think it is a truly beautiful poem and I seriously doubt that just anyone could replicate it by simply using their own family’s experiences.

    Having said that, if the direction is to write something like this, I would do so and leave out anything important or traumatic. There’s enough of the day to day in that poem that someone could substitute Tide for Clorox and maple for elm, and so forth. Maybe include one thing that others have mentioned that sounds meaningful, but isn’t – not getting picked for something or not having the highest marks in the 4th grade. If the genius who decided this would be a good exercise complains, just tell them that’s all I wrote because that’s all there was to write, and move on. What are they going to do – ding you for not coming from a more interesting background?

  139. nonegiven*

    I’ll teach you how we write in C,
    And terrify the simple Perl!
    And how the Saxon and the Celt
    Their UNIX-shaking blows have dealt
    With gdb and dbx
    Or will when the occasion calls!
    If author-like you’d write your progs,
    Unbend your hands and grab your mouse;
    Remove your DOS you’ll never want it more!
    Though we’re no longer point-and-click,
    Yet we can type and we can print,
    And thanks to GNU and thanks to Make
    We never ever dump a core!

    /What never?/
    No never!
    /What never?/
    Well, hardly ever!

    /Hardly ever ever dumps a core/
    /Give three cheers and three cheers more/
    /For the guy who never ever dumps a core/
    /Then give three cheers and three cheers more/
    /He never ever dumps a core!/

  140. Mirea*

    I’m made up of grumpy and snark
    My humor, it tends toward the dark
    Of the ‘verts, I’m an Intro
    Mum about stuff I am into
    And I’d spit in your tea for a lark

    There. There’s my poem.

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